Farewell to Troy Cooley, the quiet Australian who launched England's pace revolution
Today's series-ending one-day match against India also finishes England's relationship with the Australian bowling coach who brought their pace attack up to speed. Angus Fraser reports
Saturday 15 April 2006
With India having already won the seven-match series the result of this morning's final one-dayer at the Usha Raje Stadium is largely irrelevant. Consolation and experience is the best that Andrew Flintoff can hope for before the return home tomorrow. Yet the game's passing should not go unnoticed because the departure of Troy Cooley to Australia signifies the end of an era for English cricket.
We need to cast our minds back to the winter of 2002-03, and England's failed attempt to regain the Ashes, to see how big an influence Cooley has had. Nasser Hussain's side travelled to Australia that winter with what we thought was an exciting group of young fast bowlers. Flintoff and Matthew Hoggard were making their way as international cricketers, while Stephen Harmison and Simon Jones had just started out. An ageing Andrew Caddick led the attack and the future looked bright.
By the end of the five-Test series, though, the illusion had become a horror show. Flintoff and Jones had returned home injured, and Hoggard and Harmison had been flogged from Brisbane to Sydney by the broad bats of Matthew Hayden, Justin Langer, Ricky Ponting and Adam Gilchrist. The 2003 World Cup which followed was equally harrowing and England looked as far away as ever from producing a winning side.
Cooley had already begun his association with the England and Wales Cricket Board. As a fast bowler with Tasmania Cooley achieved little, but Rod Marsh, the ECB National Academy director, had seen his potential as a fast-bowling coach and invited him to work with the first intake in Adelaide that same winter.
During the first Test of the 2003 season, against Zimbabwe at Lord's, Cooley began working with England's premier fast bowlers. James Anderson's bowling in the World Cup had turned him into England's saviour but it has been Cooley's ability to get the best out of Harmison, Hoggard, Flintoff and Jones that transformed the national side's fortunes.
Cooley was been lucky enough to work with the best group of pacemen England have had for decades, but under his guidance each has improved significantly. England, when all the bowlers are fit, possess the most feared and versatile pace attack in the world, as Australia found out last summer when they were soundly beaten in the Ashes.
But what has a softly spoken, unassuming Tasmanian with an ordinary first-class record been able to do that nobody in England could? The principal reason for Cooley's success is that he is a great bloke. Obviously he knows his stuff, but it his easy-going and understanding nature that has allowed him to build a close and warm relationship with England's bowlers.
Hussain did a wonderful job for England when he was captain. He brought in discipline and combativeness, but he had little understanding of fast bowlers and how they worked. He is not the only captain, or coach for that matter, to look at a fast bowler as though he was a piece of meat, and he will not be the last.
But at the time Hoggard, Flintoff and company needed someone around who spoke their language, and could relate to the problems they were going through. They instantly realised that Cooley was just that man. He is not the type of coach who barks orders and expects players to jump. Cooley works with his bowlers, talking to them as equals and treating their opinions with respect. Basically, he is there for them.
His biomechanical background, and the use of Nasa scientists to help to explain the principles of reverse swing, have given many people the impression that he is something of a boffin or dweeb. He is not. Like all coaches Cooley wants his bowlers to understand what they are doing and possess as many variations and skills as possible. Yet his methods are simple and his principles are built around the old-fashioned virtues of line and length. Over the past three years he has not only become the confidant of Flintoff, Hoggard, Harmison, Jones and Anderson, he is also one of their mates. Touring squads inevitably split into groups and Cooley is regularly seen eating with England's fast bowlers or having a quiet beer with them at the bar.
How highly he is regarded is highlighted by the fact that England have used him for as long as they can. Cooley told the ECB that he had accepted an offer from Cricket Australia before Christmas yet the board has chosen to keep him in India for the entire tour, even though there is potential for him to use the experience as a fact-finding mission for next winter's Ashes series.
Cooley will return home to Australia next week, where he will attempt to perform the same task for Ponting's side. He will be sorely missed by England, especially by the fast bowlers, but he will never be forgotten. Kevin Shine, his replacement, has a tough act to follow.
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