In conversation with… James Kirtley

Sussex and England cricketer James Kirtley was educated at Clifton College – he spoke to ISS about his school memories and career

In his England Test debut against South Africa in 2003, Kirtley took 2-80 and 6-34 and was awarded the man of the match award. At club level, in the 2006 C&G Trophy final, Kirtley bowled Sussex to victory with match figures of 5-27. Kirtley also had to address his bowling action in 2005-6 after doubts about its legality.

âž¡ What are your memories of the sports coaching at Clifton College?

I was very lucky. I played rugby, hockey and cricket and had three coaches with their own individual ways. Kevin Bowring, our rugby coach, had been Head of Professional Coach Development at the Rugby Football Union, and his technical and strategic knowledge was enormous. Hockey coach Ollie Cullen was a little eccentric but managed the team brilliantly, while cricket coach Jim Andrew was an early mentor for me, helping me not only with my cricket but in life as a whole.

âž¡ How did your time at school help you to develop as an athlete?

I was a late developer, which had the happy effect that I didn’t get pigeon-holed into one sport. I played basketball, fives, rackets, athletics, football – and this variety helped with my physical development. I think nowadays talented youngsters are often discouraged from playing other sports, whereas I believe there is a lot to be learnt from cross-sport training.

âž¡ What are your memories of school life beyond the sports field?

I think Clifton at the time was not one of those schools who looked to churn out the grades – there was a little more freedom to develop personally. It didn’t necessarily work for everyone, though, and I think I was single-handedly responsible for Clifton descending two leagues in the exam tables.

âž¡ What was your career sporting highlight?

The Man of the Match performance in my first Test match, and winning the Championship with Sussex for the first time are both up there – but best is the C&G Final in 2006. We beat Lancashire in a game we should have never won. Sussex were bowled out for 172 and yet we managed to win by 15 runs. I was lucky enough to get 5-27 and win Man of the Match. This was made all the more special as I had had to remodel my action that winter, so it was a moment of huge emotion and a year where I had enormous support.

âž¡ You were often credited with having a great cricketing brain. What does that mean? 

I was able to deliver on the big occasions – to take a step back and view proceedings with more perspective. I was clear on my plans and naturally analytical. It’s been great getting back in to coaching recently and to use these skills again, especially with the England ladies where one-day cricket is the dominant form and where the need to adapt and assess is key.

âž¡ What has been your greatest challenge or lowest point so far? 

Easy: the continued speculation over the legality of my bowling action. The winter of 2005/06 was a dark time for me: in the nets five days a week with my bag of 30 balls, bowling and analysing all the way through it to make the desired changes. Thankfully it all went well, making the success of the 2006 season so special.

âž¡ What are your plans for the future? 

I think cricket will always play a part of whatever I do. I am currently working for LycaFly, the sports travel arm of the Lyca Group, helping to arrange sports tours around the world. We specialise in cricket and have great links in Sri Lanka, south-western Africa and Europe. I am also coaching, looking after the young bowlers in Sussex and also working with the England Ladies.

âž¡ What have been your guiding principles so far in life?

One of the biggest things is looking to make a positive difference – whether for a team, individual or company. Taking your own gain out of the equation allows you to deliver what is required, and not to compromise. The balance between delivering your performance and accommodating to the team’s needs defines good teamwork. I played in a great team at Sussex and we had some great values: ruthless yet respectful, caring yet honest with each other, relaxed but unafraid to improve

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