DateLine: 13th February 2006
Despite taking a wicket with his first ball in First-class cricket, Paul Collingwood has been firmly in the batting all-rounder mould ever since. His first taste of international cricket was not a terribly happy one, as he scored 20 runs in four completed innings in the Natwest series of 2001, and in those early matches his bowling was also heavily scored off. Credit is due to the England selectors for sticking with him, as he gradually became established in the one-day team. A century against Sri Lanka at Perth in December 2002, confirmed that England had found a replacement for Graham Thorpe in the middle order. His bowling was still the weak link though, and the uneconomical nature of it meant he could only ever be trusted as a sixth bowler at best, although in England and New Zealand the conditions allowed his medium pacers to more dangerous than in other parts of the world. Against Bangladesh in 2005 he became the first man in ODI history to score a century (112* of 86 balls) and take six wickets (6-31) in the same match. Although his batting was brutal and his medium pace perfect to wobble about in the fading Nottingham light, such a record was somewhat downplayed because of the poor quality of the opposition, although Bangladesh had beaten Australia three days before. However, that performance was indicative of a general improvement in Collingwood’s bowling, and with his brilliant fielding (both as a run saver and a spring ankled catcher), he had proved himself to be a fitness permitting certainty for the 2007 World Cup.
His Test career has proved less sustainable though, although his popular and low maintenance personality has made him an ideal tourist, under the guise of being an understudy for Andrew Flintoff. His Test debut came in Sri Lanka in 2003-4, and he batted time in both his matches at Galle and Kandy to help save both these Tests, although even on slow wickets his medium pace was a sixth option for Michael Vaughan. His debut would have come against Zimbabwe in 2003 (when Flintoff was out injured), but for an injury in an early season match for Durham, and Yorkshire’s Anthony McGrath got a short lived chance instead. Collingwood booked a place in Ashes history by playing in the final, series winning Test at The Oval in September 2005. He was, supposedly, a bowling replacement for the crocked Simon Jones. His selection, in reality, was a reward for proving himself to be a dependable character and known quantity (it was the biggest single match in England for many years after all) and an attempt to hold onto the series lead by lengthening the batting at the expense of the bowling. As it was he bowled four of the 107 overs the Australians faced, although his 51 ball 10 again showed how he could again bat time in pressured situations. He had enjoyed an excellent 2005 with the bat, scoring six First-class centuries for Durham. In Pakistan in late 2005 he leapfrogged Ian Bell for selection the First Test, with the reason given that his bowling had put on a few mph since leaving England, although such a claim was little more than a smokescreen to cushion the pain of being dropped for the Warwickshire man. However, Michael Vaughan’s injury meant both of them played, and Bell outbatted Collingwood comfortably, with the Durham man’s bowling still containing the one bad boundary ball an over it always had, and offering little by way of wicket taking threat. With Andrew Strauss flying home to England, Collingwood returned for the Third Test. In this match, for the first time, he looked a Test player, hitting 96 (being caught hooking as the tail collapsed around him) and 80 as England succumbed to a heavy defeat.
Although he could work on the economy and variation if his bowling, its comfortably sub 90mph speed means he will only ever be likely to run through Test class teams on very specifically dank and murky days, the sort not found in many Test playing countries. Besides, the semi-occasional medium pacers of Ian Bell look a better bet of grabbing a partnership breaking scalp than Collingwood’s deliveries anyway. Despite many feeling that his bowling is the key to his place in the Test team, he is closer to being a Test class batsman than he is a Test class all-rounder. Although the situations he has found himself in have to a large extent dictated his style of play, he has often found himself bogged down in his Test innings. If he could incorporate more of his one-day innovation and high quality nurdling in his Test batting, he may find scoring easier, which would help to protect his place from the likes of Rob Key and Owais Shah.
(Article: Copyright © 2006 Matthew Reed)