Patient Kirtley ready and still willing for England Test debut

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The Independent Online

James Kirtley insists he will be ready, should the call for his Test debut finally arrive against South Africa at Trent Bridge today. The 28-year-old Sussex seamer has become accustomed to false starting when it comes to the eve of Tests, but having been in four squads this summer and on standby for the second Test defeat at Lord's last time out, there is a chance he will finally break his duck.

That chance was enhanced when Darren Gough announced his retirement from Test cricket last week. However, having made his one-day debut for his country two winters ago, Kirtley is England's nearly man. "It is a very hard situation," he said. "You believe in the initial stages that you will play and you have to prepare as if you are going to play.

"You can't prepare thinking you are not going to play because if someone rolls their ankle or falls down the steps then that is my opportunity. That has probably been the hardest thing, building yourself up for it and then missing out."

Kirtley has become used to travelling the country's motorways in a search of a game during Test weeks this season, but believes his county commitments have left little time to dwell on disappointment.

"What has been good is that Sussex have been playing some good, hard, successful cricket so it is very easy to get back into things," he said.

"You can't afford to coast into the game, you have got to get into the game straight away and there is very little time to mull around and lick your wounds, you just have to get on with it."

Having been around the England squad for two years, when the call finally arrives, he will feel fully integrated into the side. "What the England selectors have done over the last couple of years is be consistent with their selections and they do back the guys that are around," he said.

"There is a bit of a new era as a seam bowler. There has always been some very fine competition and we now have Glen Chapple coming into the side, while there are others like Richard Johnson and Matthew Hoggard coming back from injury.

"There is always going to be keen competition but at the moment there are a few opportunities and it is up to me to take them."

Kirtley claimed a five-wicket haul for Sussex against Nottinghamshire in a County Championship match at Trent Bridge when the ball swung prodigiously. His main rival for a place in the final XI is Lancashire's Chapple, who would also be making his debut.

One man who will have to wait for such an honour is Worcestershire's Gareth Batty. The off-spinner was released from the squad and went straight to Scarborough, where, with the wickets tumbling to seamers, he was dismissed for five after not bowling in Yorkshire's 130 all out.

One definite new entrant to the five-match series, which South Africa lead 1-0, will be the all-rounder Jacques Kallis, who missed the first two Tests because of the death of his father Henry. He is likely to replace Dewald Pretorius in an XI which has shrugged off the ignominious defeat by England in the final of the NatWest Series, when Kallis was among those shot out for a paltry 107.

"It is about getting the mindset right," Kallis said. "There will be a mental adjustment needed from the one-day series we played.

"I have had a three-week break and from a cricketing point of view I am hitting it as well as I have done and bowling as well as I have bowled, so I feel well prepared. Life moves on so I have to put it behind me and go out and do what I do best, and that is play cricket."

Kallis knows that the home side will be ready to avenge the innings defeat at Lord's. "England is a proud country and you can never write them off when they are at home," he said. "We know they will come back hard at us and want to win the series."