Australia v England, CB Series 1st final, Melbourne February 9, 2007

The workman strikes back



Paul Collingwood has had his share of ups and downs in Australia © Getty Images
England have been to hell and back on this never-ending tour of Australia, but nobody has travelled further than Paul Collingwood. From the highs of his double century at Adelaide to the soon-to-follow lows and a run in the one-dayers, the journey left him scratching around and thinking of home.

He, along with Andrew Strauss, were the most notable fall-outs of the Adelaide Test debacle. The decline set in during the final three Tests, but it was the efforts in the CB Series that showed how mentally tired Collingwood had become. He was always a shoo-in for the World Cup - average in the 30s, useful bowler, outstanding fielder - but now, on the back of an innings-of-a-lifetime, he is once again England's middle-order workman. As Michael Vaughan said before limping away, what a difference a week (or two) makes.

The best thing to happen to Collingwood was an enforced one-match break thanks to a bout of food poisoning. He missed the victory over Australia at Sydney, but returned looking a new man (or the old Collingwood) at Brisbane where his century was central to the recovery against New Zealand. But that fightback wasn't a patch on what he managed today.

Coming in at 3 for 15, the momentum was all back with Australia as their batting collapse was pushed aside. Ricky Ponting, safe in the knowledge that England were still scared by Australia, knew his team still held the aces. Then Glenn McGrath dropped a catch, the ground fielding went to pot and three hours later he was nearly speechless.

Having nothing left to lose can do funny things to a team. Every time England have taken the field in their last three matches not much has been expected. It's how they like it, the underdog tag. Much the same applies to Collingwood. He's not a penthouse cricketer like Kevin Pietersen or Andrew Flintoff, more the first floor maintenance man who keeps everything working. But he'd reached a low point, nothing was expected each time he walked in, yet he delivered with back-to-back centuries.

His unbeaten 120, lifting him a few more notches up England's less-than-impressive ODI century-makers list, will be what the match is remembered for. But it wouldn't have been possible without Collingwood in the field. With Australia cantering along at 1 for 170 in the 31st over, 300-plus was looming as were the familiar cries of "they can't handle it when it matters". Then the game changed; Flintoff handed his charges a roasting, Collingwood leapt at short-cover to grab Ponting and the belief was back.

Collingwood has a history of fine fielding - ask Matthew Hayden about that catch at Bristol in 2005 - and it is an area that a team, no matter about their batting and bowling skills, should be able to compete on a level playing field. It's not always been that way for England, who have often had to hide fielders (which is still the case with some), but on this occasion the roles were reversed.

For Collingwood's catch and two direct-hit run outs read McGrath's clanger, Hayden slipping in the outfield and overthrows bouncing around as the usually watertight backing-up vanished. Never mind his effect on the batting it was Andrew Symonds' aura in the field that was missing.

Still, despite Collingwood's athleticism a couple of weeks ago it would have come to nothing. Australia's depth and class would have swallowed up any semblance of resistance. That was then, this is now. One swallow doesn't make a summer but, heck, England have had three on the bounce and it isn't even a leap year. One more and they'll complete the ultimate gatecrash.

Andrew McGlashan is editorial assistant of Cricinfo