Kirtley's action under scrutiny as umpire acts

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The Independent Online

James Kirtley, the Sussex quick bowler, has been reported to the International Cricket Council for having a suspect action. A week after first expressing doubts about Kirtley's delivery, match referee Colonel Naushad Ali decided to make his opinion official after watching him in the fourth one-day international here on Wednesday.

The England and Wales Cricket Board has already appointed former England bowling coach Bob Cottam to help Kirtley undergo remedial work but, as Muttiah Muralitharan and Shoaib Akhtar can verify, the stigma of being described as a chucker never goes away. If Kirtley is to satisfy every official in future, he faces an examination of his mental strength as much as his bowling technique.

Colonel Ali has acted independently because none of the umpires who stood in the three games in which Kirtley played expressed doubts. The match referee has been a regular visitor to the TV lorries at the ground, watching slow motions and taking away videos to view.

Kirtley is believed to be the first England bowler to have his action questioned since the Yorkshire spinner Geoff Cope in the early Seventies. Kirtley was reported while playing on the England A tour of New Zealand in 1999-2000 but, after being filmed at the biomechanics department at Brighton University, he was cleared by the ECB in November 2000. Now the doubts have returned.

Kirtley said: "Every bowling action is unique and this is only one person's opinion. This is a situation I've been in before and I've shown I have the mental strength to come through. When I was cleared in November 2000, it was proved beyond doubt that I wasn't straightening my arm in my action. And I haven't changed my action since then.

"My mum is a physiotherapist and I've always had supple joints and a hyper-extension at the elbow. I've worked to play for England all my life – and I'd love to be part of the management's plans for the future."

Kirtley can carry on playing. If he is reported again, the ICC will appoint its own advisor to help make sure his arm is straight. A third report would mean the convening of the ICC's bowling review panel and a possible one-year ban.

Kirtley received total support from the England management. The captain, Nasser Hussain, said: "James has been an absolute blessing on this tour. We've made him part of the management team and, although this is a very difficult time, we back him completely and I'm sure he has the character to come through."

Meanwhile, when Andrew Flintoff few home from Pakistan 12 months ago with a back problem he believed he might never bowl again. Now, restored for full fitness and able to propel the ball at 85mph as well as hit it considerably faster, Flintoff is once more England's all-rounder with the most potential.

He has been demonstrating his talents out here, with back-to-back scores of 46 in addition to useful wickets and catches. Later this month, Flintoff flies to Australia as part of England's first- Academy squad. It will be a type of cricketing finishing school and, significantly, Flintoff rang Fletcher and volunteered to attend when his name was originally missing.

Flintoff said: "I believe being part of the Academy squad will be an important part of my cricketing education and help make me a better player. That's why I was so keen to be involved. Learning from such proven coaches as Rod Marsh will be a great experience. I expect it to be hard, which is fine by me, because I'm sure there will be a big emphasis on training, as well as working on the technical side of the game."

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