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December 2, 2006
It could only happen to a man like Paul Collingwood. On the greatest day of his career - arguably even his life - he still found himself being overshadowed by his batting partner, Kevin Pietersen, as the pair fronted up to the media following their 310-run stand at Adelaide. Quiet humility one end of the table, and not-so-quiet egomania on the other. It was a beguiling mixture. No wonder it had the Australians so confused.
For Collingwood there was a look of wry amusement as he examined his place in history. He had just become England's first double-centurion in Australia for 70 years, but he wasn't exactly effusive in his utterings. "I'm getting there slowly but I'm certainly not the finished article," he offered the eager scribes, a line he has been conditioned to say in the course of his six years on the fringes of regular selection.
Did he sleep well last night, double-parked as he was on 98 not out? "No," came the most emphatically honest answer of the day. "I felt like I was up every 20 minutes. It was the nervous nineties that got us out last week [at Brisbane] and I wanted to get past that and go on."
"It was all about refocusing on the job in hand," he added, something that, with three big days of Test cricket to come, he seemed already to have done. "We've certainly not cracked the Australian aura," he continued. "All we've had is two good days against them."
It was admirable and earthy, and precisely the sort of focus that will keep England on course in this series. But what was Pietersen's take on the day? By this stage, he was bursting with eagerness to give the alternative view, but he bit his tongue admirably and, as the focus switched to his crushingly effective confrontation with Shane Warne, he managed not to utterly outshine his team-mate's big day.
"I think I've won the battle," he announced as Warne nursed his figures of 1 for 154. "He tells me all the time that it's aggressive and positive to come around the wicket. It's a question of patience. He is the greatest bowler that's walked on this planet, with the most Test wickets, so you've got to listen to him sometimes."
By inference, therefore, KP is now the greatest batsman on the planet, but of course, he wouldn't be so brash to say so. Was he bothered that Warne's tactics after lunch rendered him so strokeless that the Barmy Army were giving ironic cheers for every squirted single? "Not at all," he retorted. "It's just a plan he's working to. He's working on my patience, working on the way I play. He's trying to get me out and maybe he can't get me out."
When asked whether he had suggested to Warne that he try from over the wicket, he shot back: "No, I might have done last year when it was friendly, but it's not friendly any more. He's tried for three innings from over the wicket, and so maybe it's a case of trying something different. He's got nearly 700 wickets, so we'll give him that."
It made for an intriguing combination - the man who believes he's cracked it but was desperately trying not to sound too boastful as he informed the world, coupled with the man who could make a quadruple-century on a greentop in May and still feel the urge to look over his shoulder for news of Michael Vaughan's latest comeback match. "What do I like about his batting?" Collingwood responded to an enquiry about their partnership at the crease, while looking up and down at Pietersen as if he didn't know where to begin.
"He's so relaxed, that's the key," he eventually volunteered, a statement upon which Pietersen conferred the royal "we". "We enjoy ourselves out there, and that's why we play the game. We were very, very relaxed." So relaxed, in fact, that Pietersen's first reaction on making a career-best 158 for the third time was to "giggle". Whether Collingwood ever felt so at ease was immaterial. The proof was in the partnership, and the runs were in the history books.
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