County cricket September 18, 2013

Collingwood's value immense to Durham

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Paul Collingwood appeared genuinely surprised by the suggestion that he might be considered a candidate for the Managing Director of England Cricket position soon to be vacated by Hugh Morris.

"Me?" he asked. "Managing director? I don't think so. I'll leave that to the posh boys like Straussy."

The suggestion is not so ridiculous, though. Collingwood's record as a leader is exceptional and he has a range of experiences that would render him an intriguing candidate.

After an unhappy period as England captain in 2007, he returned to lead the side to the only global trophy they have ever won - the World T20 in the Caribbean in 2010 - and has now helped Durham from the bottom of the Division One table in July 2012 to the brink of being County Champions in 14 months. In that time, Durham will have, with victory over Nottinghamshire, won 14 out of 21 Championship games in which he has captained and a club record five in succession to seal the title.

And all that against a backdrop of financial trouble that prevented the acquisition of new players or an overseas cricketer, of high-profile injuries and departures (the likes of Michael di Venuto, Ian Blackwell and Steve Harmison have all, for one reason or another, been phased out in recent times, while Dale Benkenstein has missed most of the campaign through injury) and of the heart attack to head coach, Geoff Cook, that cast a shadow over the club for several weeks. It is an achievement worthy of the highest praise.

This challenge, Collingwood conceded, came at the right time of his career. With his international career over and many personal ambitions sated, he had the combination of experience and personal ability to instil the values that he saw benefit England into a Durham squad that, for all its skill, had an 'old-school' feel when it came to matters such as fitness and preparation.

"I have been a reluctant captain in the past," he admitted. "I am not one to go out calling for the captaincy whichever team I have played for but when I've done it, I've done it to the best of my ability.

"This has come at the right time for me. It's kept me fresh and it's given us the chance to take the club forward five or 10 years. It's not just about success on the pitch, it's about instilling a culture in the club that can take us into the future."

That culture has seen several high-profile players - the likes of Harmison and Blackwell - sidelined and opportunities given to young, locally-developed cricketers who were more in-tune with Collingwood's fitness ethic and, in general, preference for reliability over flair.

He concedes that his own powers as a player are waning. He has claimed only one Championship wicket this season and, though he has passed 50 five times on some demanding surfaces, he has not managed a century and his average is a modest 30.85. He dismissed the suggestion that he will seek a new contract after the 2014 season with a snort of laughter: "I doubt it," he said with feeling.

"That would be pretty much it for me, I would have thought," he said. "I am enjoying it but I'm nowhere near as good a player as I was. And that frustrates the hell out of you.

When you get a ball and think 'I used to whack that.' I'm scrapping more than I ever have. I'm trying to play shots I used to be able to play and the ball isn't going anywhere. But I guess I am still contributing and I would be very upset if I wasn't."

Collingwood is a little coy about his future beyond 2014. Partially because of the heart attack suffered by Geoff Cook a few weeks ago, talks about the coaching structure at Durham at present are sensitive and, perhaps, inappropriate. Until a few months ago, it was presumed that Dale Benkenstein would, in time, succeed Cook with Jon Lewis as his deputy.

Now, however, there is a thought that it may be Collingwood and Lewis who take the club forward. Understandably, Collingwood is reluctant to be drawn on the subject, limiting himself to saying "conversations have taken place" but nothing is decided.

He is also modest about his own contribution to Durham's achievements. "I'd put this success down to the skilful players we have in the dressing room," he said. "Several young guys have put their hands up and I always feel that we have the attack to take 20 wickets. We have an exceptional attack and in Graham Onions - whose averages are ridiculous in the last couple of years - and Chris Rushworth we have bowlers who know how to bowl on this wicket."

The days of former England players going back into the county game are, sadly, declining. The lure of media work and foreign leagues has given them other options and, as a consequence, seen the domestic game robbed of just a little bit of the experience that can help develop the next generation. Collingwood has shown the value of such players, however, and deserves much of the credit for Durham's fine achievement.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo