Robert James Kirtley
January 10, 1975, Eastbourne, Sussex
Right hand Bat
Right arm Fast medium
St Andrews School, Eastbourne; Clifton College, Bristol
England's willing bridesmaid, James Kirtley was rarely a first-choice bowler, but responded to every opportunity with an unrivalled eagerness. Slim-bodied but whole-hearted, he has a rare gift for swinging the ball at pace, and speeds to the crease from a die-straight run, before completing a chest-on action with an eye-watering wrench of the back. His fitness record is solid enough, but there have been murmurs about the legality of his bowling action. Before he played for England, he was filmed by biomechanics experts and cleared by an eight-man ECB panel, but no sooner had he made his international debut, in a Harare one-dayer in October 2001, than suspicions were aired again by the match referee, Colonel Naushad Ali. With the backing of both the Sussex and England management, Kirtley carried on regardless, and returned to the side the following summer, following extensive remedial work. But he was reported twice in 2005 and again sent for remedial work at the end of the summer. There was an irony in Kirtley's return to Zimbabwe in an England shirt, as he started the rot on Mike Atherton's horror tour of 1996-97 by collecting seven wickets as Mashonaland's overseas player. In 2003 he finally made his Test debut against South Africa at Trent Bridge, and bowled England to victory with second-innings figures of 6 for 34. He was initially overlooked for the subsequent tours of Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, but stayed on as cover for the injured James Anderson, and ended up playing in the final two Tests. Until then the highlight of his brief international career was an amazing one-handed outfield catch, off Sourav Ganguly, at Lord's in 2002. However, his career at international level was stunted by his lack of pace and the emergence of Steve Harmison and Simon Jones. A lesser character would have folded under the pressure of the questions about his action, but Kirtley came through the turmoil and bowled Sussex to victory in the 2006 C&G final with 5 for 27. Further consistent performances in domestic one-day cricket, plus England's continued inability to find reliable bowlers, then brought him a surprise international recall for the Twenty20 World Championship in South Africa but his tournament amounted to one match, and one over (which cost 17), against Australia. That was his last taste of the international scene and he gradually played less first-class cricket for Sussex before ending his career in 2010 as a one-day specialist - but still a very fine performer.
Simon Briggs September 2010
Batting & Fielding