Kirtley's bowling action faces fresh scrutiny

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The Independent Online

James Kirtley looks set to be dragged into another throwing controversy after it emerged that Clive Lloyd, the match referee, has asked the International Cricket Council if he could see some old footage of the England fast bowler.

Lloyd, the former West Indies captain, has not reported Kirtley after watching him bowl in Kandy but he wishes to compare his action during the second Test to how it was before he began remedial work after being reported by Colonel Naushad Ali during England's one-day tour of Zimbabwe in October 2001.

In many ways it seems ironic that the right arm of an England bowler should catch the eye of Lloyd when debate over the legitimacy of Muttiah Muralitharan's bowling action rumbles on. Lloyd has already stated that he will not be reporting Muralitharan. He feels the spinner's action looks no different from the last time he saw the Sri Lankan bowl and he had been cleared by the ICC. This, however, is the first time Lloyd has seen Kirtley bowl.

The action of the Sussex fast bowler, who took four wickets during England's heroic draw in Kandy, has been the topic of conversation since he was selected for an England A tour in 1999. At the end of that tour, and following closer examination by the England and Wales Cricket Board, he was dropped from the England A tour of the West Indies in 2000-01.

Kirtley was subsequently cleared by the ECB and was selected for England's tour of Zimbabwe, where Colonel Ali reported him after he took 2 for 33 on his one-day international debut. Kirtley then began remedial work with the former England bowling coach Bob Cottam in 2002 and was cleared for a second time.

By consistently taking wickets for Sussex, Kirtley quickly regained his place in England's one-day team and took 6 for 34 on his Test debut last summer against South Africa at Trent Bridge. England won by 70 runs and Kirtley was named man of the match.

Since working with Kirtley, Cottam has taken a keen interest in his progress. "James worked very hard and showed a lot of bottle to come back from that," Cottam said after the Trent Bridge Test. "To be called a chucker is about the biggest stigma a bowler can have.

"I worked with James on some corrective measures and we had half a dozen sessions together in Brighton. Biomechanically, experts said his action was a throw and the freeze-frame pictures proved he had a kink at the elbow. That's not my opinion - it was a fact.

"I tried to get James to make sure his forehead followed through down the pitch. If he turned his head to one side and led with his right ear he tended to twist his arm. I watched with bated breath when I put the television on to watch at Trent Bridge. And although I didn't see every ball, he looked fine to me."

There are bowlers with purer actions than Kirtley but, as a former fast bowler, I find throwing to be a very emotive subject. Looking at footage of bowlers from years gone by there have been some horrendous chuckers who were never called but in this age, and with television coverage being so thorough, it is possible to monitor every movement of a bowler's arm as it comes over.

Surveys have shown that the elbow of almost every fast bowler straightens during the delivery. It may only be by a couple of degrees but it is enough for a bowler to be called a chucker. This means that if a witch hunt started, and every bowler was examined, many of the game's most exciting players could be booted out. If this were to happen, cricket would lose a lot of its appeal.

Spectators turn up at matches to be entertained and Muralitharan, Brett Lee and Shoaib Akhtar, three bowlers with actions that raise eyebrows, do this. So it would be wise for those in charge to tread carefully.

This news will not prevent England from being able to select Kirtley for Wednesday's third Test here. Many felt England's team for the second Test smacked of caution and that an extra bowler should have been picked.

Duncan Fletcher, the England coach, suggested his side may return to a five-man attack. "We will decide on the balance of our side when we have had a look at the wicket," he said. "But if the pitch is similar to that we played on two years ago, we would play the extra fast bowler because it had some extra bounce in it."