With Paul Collingwood coming back to form in the current game with South Australia and the Ashes just around the corner, it seems an apt time to feature him in our regular Heroes & Zeroes column.
This article first featured in the second edition of the Cricket Sadists' Quarterly - the next issue of which is due out on 20 November. For those of you that live on Mars, Cricket Sadist is the brainchild of Jarrod Kimber a.k.a. Cricket With Balls and is a right riveting read. We've got an article on the Worst Ashes XIs of the last 30 years coming up in the new issue.
In the inaugural issue of Cricket Sadist, I explained why Douglas Jardine is my favourite cricketer of all time. This time it is the turn of England’s ginger ninja Paul Collingwood.
Now some will think it strange that Collingwood makes it into my cricketing pantheon, and I can sort of understand that. He may be a wonderful fielder, but his batting is hardly the most graceful and his dibbly-dobbly seamers hardly merit a mention. But there are many reasons why Colly is great, let me explain.
An unsung hero
Every successful team needs an unsung hero. In England’s 1966 World Cup winning team hat-trick hero Geoff Hurst, captain Bobby Moore and star man Bobby Charlton took most of the plaudits. But it was little Nobby Stiles who covered every blade of grass and did the hard work in the engine room. Fast forward to 2003, and it was Jonny Wilkinson and skipper Martin Johnson grabbing the attention as England won the Rugby World Cup and pissed off John Howard to boot, whilst flanker Neil Back stayed in the shadows.
It is the same with Colly. Whilst Swann, Strauss, Flintoff and even Trott were lauded after England regained the Ashes last summer, many seemed to forget that without Collingwood’s rearguard at Cardiff, the Ashes would probably have been lost. If England are to retain the Ashes next winter, they’ll need their little Durham battler at his gritty best.
A man for a crisis
No problem was too big for The A Team and like Hannibal Smith; Colly is a man with a plan for a crisis. Three times in less than a year, England escaped with nine wickets down draws from tests they looked certain to lose, and Colly was the central figure each time. Most famously at Cardiff, Colly seemed like the only player who truly believed that England could survive and although it was Monty and Jimmy that were there at the end, Colly was the inspiration.
Then at Centurion after KP and Trott looked to have batted England to safety, it was Colly who stood tall in the face of an inspired new ball burst from Friedel de Wet. Two tests later and Collingwood was there again to deny South Africa in Cape Town and even made a man of Ian Bell, who uncharacteristically dug in with the tunnel rat himself.
As Colly may well have said “I love it when a plan comes together”.
A multi-faceted batsman
Now most people seem to have bracketed Collingwood as a one-dimensional batsman; one that nurdles runs on his favourite leg-side. This is a bit unfair. You don’t become England’s most capped one day player by having only one facet to your game. In truth, Collingwood is a batsman that can operate in a number of gears. He can lead a one day run chase in the manner of a Michael Bevan. He can dig in like a Geoffrey Boycott to save a test match. And if necessary he can hit sixes - although not quite with the style of a Virender Sehwag.
He gets up the nose of the Aussies
You can always tell when an Australian side respects an England player because Shane Warne will continually slag him off. To be fair to Warne, he did have some ammunition when Colly was given an MBE after playing in the final test of the 2005 Ashes and only scoring 7 and 10 (even if it was one of the most important 10’s in cricket history!). The fact that Colly gave as good as he got meant that Warne has continued the barbs to this day.
The truth is, is that Collingwood is the closest thing England have to an Australian. Mentally strong, unbelievably competitive and someone who won’t give an inch of ground in the heat of the battle. In many respects he is the English Steve Waugh.
He wrings the absolute maximum from his talent
If England places were given on talent alone, Colly would struggle to make the side. Unlike Ian Bell for example, Colly is not an exceptionally gifted batsman. More talented than some of the patronising critics will say, but no-one is going to salivate over his cover drive. And when Collingwood is out of form, he can look horrible at the crease.
But this is a cricketer who wrings the maximum from his talent. And I like that. If I was a current test cricketer, I’d want to be Virender Sehwag or Chris Gayle. But if I had to be an English test cricketer, I’d want to be Paul Collingwood. There must be something satisfying about knowing you have dripped the last bead of sweat from your body to save your country from certain defeat. And that’s something the ginger ninja knows all about.