Tasmanian devilry keeps bowlers hot

Tutor Troy is key man for the tourists
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The Independent Online

Troy Cooley said of England's most destructive fast bowler: "He's different and he's got a different action. He looks a bit like a West Indian with that gangly arm load-up. It's not going to get him into too much trouble, but there are a couple of things to work on to do with the pathway of his arms.

"He's got a good basic release point and he's developed so much from when I first saw him two years ago. He has grown and grown as a bowler and a man who will accept his share of responsibility."

All entirely accurate, but that was 18 months ago, before Stephen Harmison began terrorising the world's batsmen and climbed to No 1 in the world rankings. Cooley sensed that something was about to happen back in the summer of last year. Harmison worked out the pathway of his arms all right, and some more besides. You should hear what Cooley says about him now.

"He took on the challenge, he worked harder in the gym, he got fitter because he recognised what it might do. Now if he goes back to the end of his run and he's bowled something a bit loose, he knows how to go through his check-list to make sure it doesn't happen again. He knows what he's trying to do and can pull it all together. He got a good break too, because in the 32 weeks from the start of the West Indies series to the end of the summer he bowled 440 overs in Tests."

There is rampant enthusiasm but no discernible pride in Cooley's assessment, but he must at least feel a warm glow inside. When the Australian analysed Harmison's progress in 2003 he had not long been hired as the English Academy's fast-bowling coach, and also brought in to help the senior team. Harmison, it had long been touted, had all the right equipment but kept spraying it to long leg one ball and third man the next.

If most of the breathtaking performances since have been down to his hard work - and training with Newcastle United - Cooley's tutelage should not be underestimated. Under the Tasmanian's wise, effervescent guidance England have managed to field their most effective four-man seam attack for more than 20 years - occasionally Bob Willis and Ian Botham had sidekicks like Chris Old, Mike Hendrick and John Lever making up a quartet. There are five front-line seamers in England's squad for this Test series, and over the past year, Cooley has helped them all to blow hot. Andrew Flintoff has gone from stock bowler to taker of key wickets. Matthew Hoggard has learned to love the fact that he is no more than fast-medium, and to compensate for the days when he ain't got that swing he has been perfecting variations.

Perhaps the bigger proportion of Cooley's attention has been devoted to Simon Jones and James Anderson, who have been vying for the fourth spot. Jones has recently edged ahead. Cooley praises the pair's work ethic and Jones's recently acquired ability to shape the ball away from the right-handers. He senses that he is rediscovering his bowling rhythm, an elusive quality that coaches cannot teach. Anderson, beset by a side strain, may have misplaced his, but Cooley emphasises his knack of taking wickets at appropriate times.

"It is exciting to work with such players," said Cooley, "and as a unit in a Test match now they compare with anybody in the world. I expect them to keep South Africa's batsmen honest, and they compare very favourably with Australia's attack. Australia have a lot of experience but England's [pacemen] are enormously talented and rapidly approaching full maturity."

Cooley is a combination of a man who can break down a bowler's action into small parts, a biomechanist, and one who recognises that flair must not be discouraged and that some seemingly bizarre actions work best for some bowlers. He warns of the dangers of overcomplication, but part of his brief is to guard against injury: "The nature of the beast is that fast bowlers are going to be injured, but that's not to say we can't do something to reduce it."

He was a fast bowler himself, with Tasmania, who did not pull up trees. Destined to be a coach, he was inspired by Dennis Lillee, landed at the Australian Academy and was then hired by the England and Wales Cricket Board.

His influence on the Test team is not to be under-estimated, and at least two of the bowlers say he is the best coach they have worked with. But perhaps his most important mission is the establishment of the élite Fast Bowling Group, consisting of 40 bowlers, from the Under-15 side to the Test team. He has led work on filming actions from a series of angles which will be used to try to find out what actions cause which injuries.

"Any injury which keeps a bowler out for more than two or three weeks is a massive one," he said, "and we are trying to discover if there is anything in actions which leads to stress fractures or intercostal injuries. At any time 14 per cent of seam bowlers are out injured, and when I wanted to film the 40, only 30 could make it because the others were out." So when might it reveal results? "Ooh, 20 years."

Cooley is spending the first three Tests with England and will then return home to assist honing the Academy- cum-A team for their tour to India. After that he will accompany Sajid Mahmood and Ricki Clarke to the Lillee Bowling Academy in Madras.

He thinks there is potential in some of England's young bowlers. He mentioned the fearfully accurate David Harrison of Glamorgan, who will need variety to compensate for his lack of speed, and David Stiff, the Yorkshireman who is with Kent and has a heady mix of ingredients.

Stiff excites him. "When it all comes together - the speed, the movement, the bounce, the accuracy - the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end."

If that is how Cooley shows his pleasure at fast bowling done well, it is a sensation he can expect to feel frequently in South Africa.

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