Fletcher stands by beleaguered Kirtley

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Duncan Fletcher, the England coach, yesterday offered unequivocal support to James Kirtley, the fast bowler at the centre of a row over his action. Fletcher says he has no qualms about playing Kirtley in the remaining four matches of the one-day series against Zimbabwe – even though he will be subjected to the most intense television scrutiny.

Fletcher believes Kirtley has the strength of personality to withstand the furore and, in any event, he is convinced the bowler's action is legal. The match referee Colonel Naushad Ali, who expressed his doubts after England's win in the opening game here on Wednesday, will decide whether to report Kirtley to the International Cricket Conference after this weekend's two matches.

His decision to speak publicly about the accusation before making an official report and his subsequent unwillingness to offer a reason for the decision has added to the management's sense of outrage at the manner in which a novice player could have been hung out to dry by an ICC official.

Fletcher said: "James bowled very well at nets this morning and I've seen nothing wrong with his attitude. He still seems pretty upbeat, which is a good thing.

"I'll tell him to go out there and just bowl and to encourage him not to worry about this. He certainly has the full backing of the side. His action is fine as far as I'm concerned. He has been passed by the ECB and everyone agrees that's OK."

Kirtley was reported on England's A tour of New Zealand two winters ago, but his action cleared by the ECB in November 2000 following an analysis at Brighton University. Fletcher said the bowler's past history was not taken into consideration when the squad for this trip was chosen.

The coach explained: "That wasn't a factor because the ECB said he was clear. Our only concern was to pick a squad of youngsters who could show they had the potential to go to the 2003 World Cup and beyond that. We're very pleased with the result. The win was vital having lost our previous 11 one-day games. It's good for myself and Nasser to see these young players close-up. Everyone is contributing, there's a nice buzz about the party.

"We're a very inexperienced side – Andy Flower probably has more caps than the whole of our side put together. Now it is up to the administrators to make sure they arrange between 30 and 35 one-day internationals a year, otherwise we won't be able to compete with other countries."

England have announced the same 12-man squad for today's second match. With the pitch at the Harare Sports Club likely to be even slower and lower than for Wednesday's game, the Essex left-arm spinner Paul Grayson has a chance of playing in one of the weekend's encounters.

Heath Streak, Zimbabwe's captain and main strike bowler, who missed the first game returns from a back injury.

ENGLAND (v Zimbabwe, second one-day game, Harare) (from): M E Trescothick, N V Knight, N Hussain (capt), M R Ramprakash, G P Thorpe, B C Hollioake, A Flintoff, J N Snape, J S Foster (wkt), R J Kirtley, M J Hoggard, P Grayson.

* The former Australia Test batsman Peter Burge died yesterday of an apparent heart attack, aged 69. Burge played 42 Tests between 1954 and 1966, scoring 2,290 runs, and in recent years served as an international referee.