Cooley wants Johnson 'up and firing'
Australia's acting head coach, Troy Cooley, hopes the conditions in South Africa will help Mitchell Johnson regain his best form after a disappointing year. Cooley will be in charge for Australia's upcoming trip to South Africa after being named as the temporary replacement for Tim Nielsen, who stepped down after the Test series win in Sri Lanka.
During that trip, Johnson continued to struggle, collecting just two wickets in each of the three Test matches, on his first Test tour working with the new bowling coach Craig McDermott. It capped off a below-par 12 months for Johnson, who since the start of the short tour of India in October last year has taken 29 Test wickets at 38.89.
Cooley watched the Sri Lankan series from Australia and said that Johnson looked consistent but he needed to keep working on his wrist position. The upcoming series will be crucial for Johnson, who faces competition from Ryan Harris, Trent Copeland and Peter Siddle for a place in the side, not only in South Africa but for the home Tests against New Zealand and India.
In Johnson's favour is his strong record in South Africa, where in 2009 he picked up 16 wickets at 25, and he was especially venomous in the Johannesburg Test. Australia's two Tests in November will be played at Newlands in Cape Town and the Wanderers in Johannesburg, where Johnson was Man of the Match last time he played there.
"I think the conditions definitely suit the quick bowlers over there and the places we're going to play will definitely give them an advantage," Cooley said. "It will be up to all of us now to pull together and make sure that not only Mitch but the rest of the team are up and firing and building on what we've started in Sri Lanka.
"Mitch has been working closely with Craig McDermott now for a little while. We have a relationship with Mitch over the years and we've seen some ups and downs along the way but fully aware Mitchell is still responsible to go out there and perform.
"From what I saw on TV he looked like he was bowling consistently. He probably needs to make sure things are working out of his wrist as best as they can. I'm sure Craig McDermott has been working on that and I'll pick up with Craig on that as soon as I hit the deck on Monday."
Cooley has spent most of the past five years working closely with Australia's attack as the team's bowling coach, but he stepped away earlier this year to become head coach at the Centre of Excellence in Brisbane. His appointment as Australia's interim coach came after he told Cricket Australia he wouldn't be applying for the full-time role.
Instead, he is happy working with the developing players at the Centre of Excellence and taking on roles such as coaching Australia A, which he did on the tour of Zimbabwe in July. On that trip, the offspinner Nathan Lyon did enough to impress the selectors and earn himself a Test debut in Sri Lanka, and Cooley said Lyon was good enough to succeed in South Africa as well.
"Nathan is relatively new in the team but he acquitted himself very well in Zimbabwe and obviously started his career with the Australian team quite nicely," Cooley said. "It's a tough area to bowl finger spin over there [in South Africa], it's a little bit like the Australian conditions, but he's got some great control and has grown with every game so I see him acquitting himself quite nicely if selected."
Cooley will rejoin the Australians at a time of great change, but also of great promise, after their 1-0 series win over Sri Lanka. Tackling South Africa in their own conditions will be a different challenge, but despite being ranked second on the ICC Test table, South Africa have not won a Test series at home since beating Bangladesh in 2008.
"South Africa are always a formidable line-up," Cooley said. "They've got a great bowling line-up and their batsmen, even though they're a little bit older, they're still producing the runs. They sit well above us on the Test table and we'll be working very hard to chase them down."
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo