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June 30, 2009
Troy Cooley believes the diversity of Australia's fast bowling line-up parallels England's revered attack of four years ago. Cooley's role in guiding England to Ashes glory in 2005 has been well documented, and the bowling coach, who has since joined the Australian staff, is hopeful of reaching similar heights this summer with his country of origin.
England's attack of 2005 has been rated by many as Test cricket's finest fast bowling quartet since the West Indians of the 1980s. The reverse swing of Simon Jones, the conventional swing of Matthew Hoggard, the bounce and seam movement of Steve Harmison and the complete package offered by Andrew Flintoff afforded Australia's quality batting line-up little respite, and set the platform for a famous 2-1 series win.
The Australians have yet to finalise their pace attack for the first Test in Cardiff, but appear to be leaning towards a line-up of Mitchell Johnson, Peter Siddle, Brett Lee and Stuart Clark. All four offer vastly different skill-sets - from the left-arm pace and swing of Johnson to the height, accuracy and seam movement of the right-arm Clark - imbuing Cooley with confidence that his line-up is capable of adapting to all conditions.
Asked whether he noticed similarities in the flexibility of his current attack and that of England four years ago, Cooley was emphatic. "Exactly," he said. "If you get all those fast bowlers putting the ball in the right area, you have got a really good mix, and that's what we are trying to do now. We are working constantly on all that sort of stuff, they are getting up their skills and they are doing pretty well at the moment."
As talented as Australia's pace line-up is, Cooley is under no illusions as to the difficulty of the task ahead this summer. His two most experienced pacemen, Lee and Clark, are returning from surgery and yet to rediscover the rhythm that, barely 12 months ago, saw them rated among the best new-ball combinations in international cricket. Siddle and Ben Hilfenhaus, meanwhile, are just beginning their international careers and have limited experience in English conditions. At least one, and possibly two, of the aforementioned foursome will miss selection in Cardiff, and managing bruised egos could prove as important a coaching assignment as guiding those in the starting XI.
"Of course it's going to be hard," Cooley said. "Everyone wants to play but you can only get eleven out on the park. There is a really good feel in this group, they get on really well together. Sure the ones that miss out will be disappointed, but they will be patting the next one on the back to go out and do the job. They will be working extra hard to try and get in the team if there is an opportunity available.
"For me it's all about getting every bowler up and ready. It's quite exciting to have them all back and … giving the selectors a bit of a hard time in choosing which ones to start on July 8."
The recent spell of hot and dry weather in England has prompted Kevin Pietersen to predict that reverse swing could prove as important a factor this season as it did four years ago. Cooley's work in grooming Jones and Flintoff into an old-ball force was lauded at the time, and the bowling coach is confident his current crop Australian quicks will prove adept at reversing the ball when conditions suit.
"It's not rocket science," he said. "You have to get the seam in the right spot, and if you have got an arm action that does that and you have got the speed and the ball condition, you're laughing. They know that. It's just a matter of them being able to execute that and practice it. They have got the know-how, they have just got to make sure they work it and get the best out of themselves to be able to produce reverse when its available."
Lee, for one, believes Cooley's input has been instrumental in improving Australia's reverse swing capabilities. "It will be a massive weapon for us," Lee said. "I've been watching replays of 2005 and picking Cooley's brain. It's important as a bowler - whether you've played for 10 years or not - to keep experimenting
"In 2005, the ball was swinging back in and we couldn't get the ball swinging as effectively as the England bowlers did. Now we prepare with the brand new ball, and older balls as well. Troy is with us now, and he was instrumental in 2005."
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