Scotland on alert as Paul Collingwood calls time on career
The handshakes with his team-mates at the end of Durham's victory over Sussex at Emirates Riverside on Wednesday said it all: Paul Collingwood, the former England batsman, has decided to end his first-class career at 42.
Collingwood will not be short of coaching offers. He has impressed with England in his occasional forays as a fielding coach and there is bound to be interest in Scotland, where he has already worked extensively and where Grant Bradburn, a 52-year-old New Zealander, resigned a week ago to become Pakistan's fielding coach.
It has taken a while for coaching opportunities to prise out Collingwood from the middle. More than seven years after the end of his England career, he retires with quite a record: he has represented the club in 23 of their 26 years in professional cricket and has amassed 304 first-class appearances, 16,844 runs and 164 wickets.
In common with Marcus Trescothick at Somerset, he grew into one of the grand old stagers of the county circuit, communicating that England's professional circuit remained a place where international stars who had known the best could still find satisfaction. A phlegmatic, hard-working, get-the-job-done cricketer, he squeezed value from himself to the very last drop.
"After much thought and deliberation, I have decided to announce my retirement from cricket at the end of the current season," Collingwood said.
"I knew this day would eventually come but it hasn't made it any easier - although it's an emotional decision, I know that the time is right and I'm comfortable knowing that I have given every last ounce of energy to the sport.
"I have achieved so much with both Durham and England; far more than I ever imagined and I feel extremely privileged to have had such a long and rewarding career. I am excited about what the future holds for me and am looking forward to new challenges."
Last year, aged 41, Collingwood capped an incredible season with three trophies at Durham's end-of-year awards: Player of the Year, Players' Player of the Year and Batsman of the Year. He also recorded the club's first T20 Blast century against Worcestershire. Earlier this year, his contribution to the club was marked with the naming of the Paul Collingwood Pavilion.
His fitness record was exemplary, too - it needed to be as Durham approached Twenty20 as a fast-running game, keeping the boundaries at the Riverside bigger than many. One of his last memories will be surviving four Vitality Blast matches in six days while he scrambled ones and twos and his achilles nagged away at him and told him it was time to go. A Collingwood career should quite properly have ended with hard graft.
If the prospect of more coaching opportunities with England and Scotland has arisen, it is neatly timed. This season has been tough - his 47 against Sussex was his highest Championship score of the season, but it was a vital contribution nonetheless and - if he stands down immediately - it helped him see out his career with victory.
As he wrestled last month with thoughts of retirement, he mused to ESPNcricinfo: "I've loved every minute of my coaching work with England and we will have to see what opportunities arise but I've no God-given right to walk into a job with the ECB. I feel I have something to offer."
Collingwood, a three-times Ashes winner, played 68 Test matches for England, scoring 4,259 runs at an average of over 40 and produced a number of outstanding performances, including a memorable double-century at Adelaide during the 2006-07 Ashes series, an innings where Australia grudgingly accepted that there were qualities, after all, in this battling cricketer that they had grown to admire.
He became the first England captain to deliver at a global men's tournament when England beat Australia to win the 2010 World Twenty20. A year later, he was gone, his decision to retire from Test cricket after a memorable Ashes triumph in Australia quickly leading to his removal as T20 captain.
He observed soon afterwards: "When you're out of the England team you get forgotten very quickly." Even then he was attracted by coaching, but instead he deepened his respect at Durham, the granite-like batsman, productive rather than attractive, whose upbringing in Consett, an old steelworks town, had taught him from the outset that life did not owe him a living. Having lost much of his England rewards in bad investments, he knew that all too well.
He went on to lift the 2013 County Championship title with Durham and also played a significant role in the club's Royal London One-Day Cup victory at Lord's a year later. When the ECB had to bale out Durham financially, and relegated them as a lesson to others, he called it "brutal" and was driven by a deep sense of pride; there was no way he would retire then.
But retire now he has, leaving Durham's chairman Sir Ian Botham, to bang the drum, claiming with a certain hyperbole: "Paul is one of the greatest all-rounders to ever grace the game of cricket and to have him playing at Durham, his home county, for all these years has been an absolute privilege.
"Both on and off the field he has class, intelligence and charm and it is a testament to his incredible commitment and work ethic that he has been able to compete at the top level for the amount of time that he has. Colly is Mr Durham and it will be very strange without him."
David Hopps is a general editor at ESPNcricinfo @davidkhopps