Troy Cooley: England's action man

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The Independent Online

There have not been many Troys: Tempest, the puppet hero from Stingray, Donahue, the American B-movie actor, and the place where the wooden horse parked outside. Now comes Troy Cooley, to look after the new generation of English fast bowling.

If he succeeds, he may take his place in the Trojan hall of fame just behind the old city. This Troy is enthusiastic, engaging, innovative and Australian. His main job is as fast- bowling coach with the National Academy, but he has been seconded by England to work with their seamers on practice days.

Cooley is a coach in the modern image. He breaks a bowler's action down into minute detail, seeking improvement which is aimed both at increasing efficiency and guarding against injury. Much of his effort is designed to reduce counter-rotation, where the hip and shoulder move in different directions and eventually lead to stress fractures.

"It is the single most important issue which causes injury to fast bowlers and shortens careers," he said. "But in making improvements it is always important to ensure that you treat every bowler as an individual. I'm not there to eliminate flair from the game."

He is visibly excited by his job, and sees no contradiction in the fact that an Australian is helping England to try to regain the Ashes. Coaching is universal. Of course, his compatriots may not quite see it like that if England lift the urn in 2005. They may even claim some of the credit.

Cooley was himself a fast bowler whose career was abbreviated by injury. He played for Tasmania, became a fitness instructor and then coached age-group sides on the island. His vibrancy and prowess were swiftly noted, and he went to the Common-wealth Academy in Adelaide. He has worked closely with Dennis Lillee, whom he regards - both as bowler and coach - with something approaching awe.

The challenge in England was too great to resist. "There is a very good crop of young pacemen coming through in this country," he said. "I saw it when I was looking around the dressing room the other day. Then in walked Darren Gough, and I thought what experience and help he could give them just by his being there and them watching him."

Cooley has taken over in the England role from Graham Dilley, the former Test fast bowler, who has been hugely successful as coach to Loughborough University. Either his methods or his face did not fit in the national camp.

But Cooley's credentials cannot be faulted. Although he talks with authority about rotation and efficiency, he could not emphasise enough that all bowlers are different. He was at his most animated in talking of individual bowlers.

Raw pace thrills him, as it thrills most observers, and Stephen Harmison falls firmly into the category. "He's different and he's got a different action. He looks a bit like a West Indian when he's bowling, 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 the responsibility." All England want Harmison to do is start knocking over top-class batsmen.

Cooley was instrumental in making amendments to James Anderson's action when the Lancashire bowler arrived at the National Academy in Adelaide last winter. "He's very mature the way he goes about things," the coach said. "He picks things up straightaway and tries them.

"For instance, in the Test at Chester-le-Street you might have seen him taking a wicket from wide of the crease, about the first time he's tried that except in practice. Some bowlers can learn and do things like that, but not all. Someone as great as Lillee, for instance, developed a leg- cutter over two years.

"With Jimmy, of course, we've got to be careful about the way he's handled. There is over-bowling, but there is also under-bowling. There are little things we'd like to do with his action to stop his head falling away, but he's not actually looking at the ground at the point of release."

And then there is Simon Jones, the Welsh fast bowler who was so injured in England's First Test against Australia last winter. "He has responded magnificently. The knee is solid again, and now we have to try to build up the area around the knee to give it protection. He has a couple of things to do yet, but I've spent a couple of weeks with him and I think his pace will still be intact."

A significant part of Cooley's brief is to make sure English fast bowlers are better prepared. "It's not for me to say there's too much cricket here, but there isn't enough time between matches to do work. That makes pre-season of great importance, and that's where a lot of attention will be placed.

"No bowler is going to be fit all the time, we all have to put up with pain. But we can help them to stay clear of long-term injury and extend their careers. Science has certainly helped to do that, and it has helped with the actions, for instance, of both Jason Gillespie and Brett Lee in Australia."

There will be people out there looking for Troy Cooley's Achilles heel, but he will be too busy nurturing fast bowlers and preventing stress fractures to notice.