ICC Winter Training Camp November 26, 2005

Cottam's secret of eternal youth

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Bob Cottam: 'Coaching these boys is massively rewarding' © Getty Images
Bob Cottam believes you are as old - or as young - as you feel and right now he feels great thanks to the work he is doing as bowling coach at the ICC's Winter Training Camp (WTC) in Pretoria.

"I am 61 years old but at the moment I feel like I am 25," said Cottam, who is working with some of the best bowlers from the six Associate countries set to take part in the 2007 World Cup in the Caribbean. "Coaching these boys is massively rewarding and that reward comes from working with them every day and seeing them improve - you cannot put a price on that, it is such a buzz. The day I no longer get that buzz and no longer enjoy the banter and the interaction with players is the day I will pack up but I do not reckon that day will come any time soon."

Cottam's brief during the 11-week camp is to try and take the bowlers at the WTC to the next level because a lack of bowling firepower has been identified as a major reason why Associates struggle to compete with the so-called big boys of world cricket.

"Our aim is to find the special talents that will make a real difference to the potency of Associate attacks," said Richard Done, the ICC's High Performance Manager. "Because of this we are prepared to take some risks in giving raw talent the chance to develop. With Henry Osinde from Canada and the two Kenyans, Nehemiah Ngoche and Alfred Luseno, we have some good pace to develop whilst Canada's Umar Bhatti and the Scotland duo of Gordon Goudie and Dewald Nel are all capable of swinging the ball."

In Cottam, the WTC has someone who has a wealth of talent on either side of the boundary rope. As a fast bowler he took over 1000 first-class wickets during a 14-year career that included four England caps, and since he stopped playing he has carved out an equally successful coaching career.

Cottam was England's bowling coach from 1998 to 2001 and helped develop Darren Gough and Andrew Caddick into a devastating combination. He has also worked with other great bowlers including West Indies legend Courtney Walsh.

So how does he find the difference between working with the game's elite and the Associate players at the WTC, many of whom are experiencing the lives of full-time professional athletes for the first time in Pretoria?

"When you are working with world-class bowlers your main job is to build their confidence," said Cottam. "You can check for the little things like making sure their wrist position is correct but mainly it is all about maintaining their good habits and confidence. The difference between them and the guys here at the WTC is that these boys are still learning the game, how to bowl and how to get the best and most out of themselves and that is what we are trying to achieve.

"They all have natural talent and we are looking to ensure they have the physical and technical basics and that involves a high level of fitness and a repeatable action. Once they have that solid base then we are expanding their skill levels to include slower balls, use of the crease, orthodox and reverse swing and so on."

While Canada's off-spinning allrounder John Davison has been looking after the slow bowlers, Cottam has focused on the men who look to seam and swing the ball. "What I have done is look at every bowler's actions, and that includes video analysis with each of them, on a one-to-one basis," he said. "I only look to make changes to a bowler - his action, wrist position, run-up, whatever it may be - if I think it means he will improve. My policy is to discuss any possible changes with the player beforehand and I will ask `Shall we try this?' If he agrees then we go ahead and so far every bowler has bought in to any suggestion I have made."

And Cottam, who coached Scotland's bowlers during their run to victory in the ICC Trophy earlier this year, believes real progress has been made with several of the players at the WTC. "At least two or three of these bowlers could play county cricket in the UK if they maintain their form and fitness," he said. "Henry Osinde and Alfred Luseno have come on in leaps and bounds and Umar Bhatti, the left-arm swing bowler, is also making great progress. They are training every day, they are appreciating how to look after their bodies and their bowling actions, and several of the lads really are class acts now.

"We played a match the other day and Henry Osinde's first six overs were absolutely superb. They were pacey, he swung the ball and he did not bowl a single no-ball - he was outstanding,"

The key now is for the bowlers to keep up their fitness work and progress once the WTC ends in late December but Cottam is hopeful they will. "If they can maintain the standards they have set here then hopefully their team mates will see how they have improved and the work ethic will rub off on them," he said. And the man who coaches youngsters near his home in Devon in the south west of England whenever he can said he uses the example of Walsh to show the players in Pretoria what it takes to succeed at the highest level.

"When I worked with Courtney he already had 300 Test wickets and one day, at a non-compulsory net session with his county side Gloucestershire, he asked me what I thought of his bowling. I said `for a bloke with your number of Test wickets you have got the worst slower ball I have ever seen,' and he said, `okay then, teach me how to bowl a decent one.' We experimented with various grips and then decided to go to the nets to try it out and the first time he bowled it he fooled the batsman completely and had him miscue a catch to where mid-off would have been. That really impressed Courtney but rather than rest on his laurels he insisted on trying it out on every other batsman who came to the nets over a two-hour period until he was completely happy with it.

"That two-hour session and subsequent work he put in was rewarded because in the latter stages of his career Courtney became one of the best bowlers of the slower ball in world cricket. I use it as an example that you only get out what you put in and it is a lesson the players here seem keen to learn so that is great."

Players attending the WTC

Bermuda - Jekon Edness, Jim West, Stephen Outerbridge & Azeem Pitcher

Canada - Qaiser Ali, Umar Bhatti, Kenneth Carto & Henry Osinde (plus John Davison, who is filling a coaching role)

Ireland - Trevor Britton, Kenneth Carroll & Eoin Morgan

Kenya - Nehemiah Ngoche, Alfred Luseno & Kalpesh Patel

Netherlands - Tom de Grooth

Scotland - Richard Berrington, Kasim Farid, Gordon Goudie, Ross Lyons, Dewald Nel, Qasim Sheikh, Fraser Watts & Sean Weeraratna