Sun, Oct 15, 2006 - Page 24 News List

England's Ashes `secret weapon' too heavy to travel

AFP , SYDNEY

England have been forced to leave behind their "overweight" secret weapon used in last year's Ashes series triumph for next month's return series in Australia, reports said yesterday.

"Merlyn," the spin bowling machine credited with guiding England to Ashes glory last year, will be left at home because it is too heavy to transport.

England's batsmen spent hours prior to the last Ashes facing Merlyn, which can be used to simulate the flight, turn and bounce of an entire over by Australia's champion spinner Shane Warne.

England's former bowling coach Troy Cooley, now back in the Australian camp, cited Merlyn as perhaps the decisive influence between the two sides.

"Shane Warne took 40 wickets during the Ashes -- but he might have taken 60 without Merlyn," Cooley told the Daily Telegraph yesterday.

Merlyn weighs 500kg and will not be able to travel with the England team by plane. It is usually transported around England by horse float.

"He is quite heavy, but very maneuverable on the flat and it is easy getting around the venues in England," said Matthew Pryor, a spokesman for the company that operates the machine.

"But given the distances in Australia we would not be able to drive `him' everywhere, so there are obviously cost implications involved in flying `him' around," he added.

Merlyn was first discovered by former Australian Test wicketkeeper Rod Marsh, then England Cricket Academy director, who travelled to Wales to see the machine and its 77-year-old inventor Henry Pryor.

Marsh invited Pryor to bring his equipment to the academy in Loughborough, where injured England captain Michael Vaughan spotted it and drafted it into use for England ahead of the Ashes.

"It has been decided to not bring Merlyn on logistical grounds," English and Wales Cricket Board communications boss Colin Gibson told the newspaper. "We'll use your superb net bowlers as we always have."

The opening Ashes Test begins at the Gabba ground in Brisbane on November 23.

Meanwhile, reports said Australia's cricketers are using the latest fitness techniques to get an edge over England.

The Aussies are looking more muscular and fitter with the help of sports science, including GPS satellite tracking systems and accelerometers to measure players' physical activity.

Team strength and conditioning coach Justin Cordy has devised fitness programs for each player and they have returned in excellent shape from a four-month [southern] winter break.

"Skinfolds is what we are focused on ... overall as a team there's been a 15 percent change in all players," Cordy told Brisbane's Courier-Mail newspaper yesterday.

"Over the last four or five months, I've really seen these guys knuckle down with the Ashes and World Cup [next March-April] on the table. It's about making them more athletic and getting excess weight off, so we can really focus on power and speed of movement. From my perspective, it was a matter of building on their [fitness] base and taking them to another level," he said.

Most of the Australian players are over 30 and know they must be in peak condition for the Ashes schedule of five Tests in seven weeks.

GPS devices are regularly fitted to players -- swing bowler Nathan Bracken agreed to wear one on his wrist during a one-day international final in Brisbane last season -- as Australia seeks an advantage over England.

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