Cooley backs 'awkward' Johnson to lift
Troy Cooley is confident there will be no repeat of Mitchell Johnson's Ashes meltdown this summer, despite his disappointing recent Test form. Cooley is entering his last months as Australia's bowling coach, having been named the new head coach at the Centre of Excellence, and he is keen to finish on a high after the disappointment of 2009.
One of his major challenges in the lead-up to next week's first Test at the Gabba is to help Johnson, who in Australia's past two Test series has taken only 11 wickets at 43.45. His form in the one-day series against Sri Lanka was poor, but in a major Test series, and in familiar conditions, Cooley expects Johnson to cause England's batsmen some problems with his pace and bounce.
"Mitch brings a nice set of skills to our team and we accept that with his action, he's not going to get 100 balls in the right area at the right time," Cooley told ESPNcricinfo. "But the other strong components of his game come to the front and that's why he's taken wickets, that's why he's such an awkward bowler to face.
"Our pitches definitely suit his style of bowling. He hits the deck hard, he's got a good quick bouncer and if it swings one day, it does; if it doesn't, well, he's found ways of getting wickets without having to be an out-and-out swing bowler. I think he's pretty comfortable with that."
Johnson's miserable Test at Lord's last year, where he finished with match figures of 3 for 200 and completely lost his radar, was a key factor in Australia losing the Ashes. At least Johnson might take some confidence from his batting form; at the MCG on Thursday he struck his second first-class century against a Victorian attack that picked off Michael Hussey and Marcus North cheaply.
While Johnson has been in Melbourne this week, Cooley has been in Hobart coaching Australia A against England, who have already sent their frontline bowlers to Brisbane to adjust to the conditions for the first Test. James Anderson, Stuart Broad, Steven Finn and Graeme Swann make up a settled attack, but Cooley is confident Australia's bowlers have the edge.
"I believe we have," Cooley said. "We have a pretty good attack, a couple of different options. It's good to see Hilfenhaus, Siddle and Bollinger all getting into good form. I think we're going pretty well.
"We've got a collection of bowlers that come together quite nicely. That's what you need here in this country, with the tracks being a little bit different from place to place. You grow up in those conditions, you learn to bowl in those conditions, and everywhere else you go in the world you've got to try and adjust. I think the home conditions will definitely suit us."
Cooley was renowned as the man who helped England's bowlers master reverse-swing during their 2005 Ashes triumph, and the Australians hoped that by poaching him he would have the same effect. Old-ball swing didn't play as huge a role in England last year - the more capable reverser, Doug Bollinger, was not yet part of the attack - and Cooley was still pleased with the efforts of Hilfenhaus, Siddle and Johnson, who topped the Ashes wicket tally.
"I think Dougie is a great exponent of that," he said of reverse swing. "Pete Siddle does reverse it pretty well when the opportunities arise. Mitchell Johnson, with his arm action, predominantly only goes one way, but when it's reversing he's as dangerous as anyone going around. They're learning all the time.
"That young attack we had over there had never bowled in England before. Even so, the top three of them still took more wickets [than the England bowlers] and their record was pretty good over there if you stack them up against anyone else. I think they did pretty well for an attack that hadn't been to England before."
It's a similar challenge faced by England; Anderson is the only man in their first-choice bowling unit who has played a Test in Australia. And the two pace attacks could be the difference between the teams when the first Test starts next Thursday at the Gabba, where there is expected to be plenty of assistance for the fast men.
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at Cricinfo