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July 6, 2009
On the eve of an Ashes series, extra motivation is not something that either side will lack, but for Paul Collingwood, one word - "Adelaide" - is all that will be required to ensure that his competitive juices are fully flowing come Wednesday morning.
For Collingwood, the second Test of England's disastrous campaign in 2006-07 truly was the best of times, and the worst of times. On the second day of the match he completed the double-century that seemed destined to lead England's fightback from their 277-run drubbing in the first Test at Brisbane; by the final afternoon, however, he was clinging to the wreckage of England's second innings, 22 not out from 119 balls, as Shane Warne led the charge towards Australia's incredible six-wicket victory.
After that astonishing turnaround, of which there had been no prospect until Andrew Strauss's dismissal midway through the morning session of the final day, there was no holding Australia back. They swarmed to victory in the remaining three Tests to complete their first Ashes whitewash since 1920-21, and claim absolute vengeance for their thrilling defeat in England in 2005. For better or worse, Collingwood has been clinging to the events of that Test ever since.
"I'll be honest with you, it still hurts me and hurts the team talking about Adelaide," he told Cricinfo. "We got ourselves into a great position to win or draw the game, and the whole Ashes series could have turned out a lot differently if that had happened. Looking back, it really took the guts out of us as a team - and certainly as an individual, it took the guts out of me - because we had been in such a great position.
"It's amazing how high you can get in terms of your emotions, scoring a double hundred as an individual, and then how quickly a game can turn, and how low you can actually get within such a short space of time," he said. "As a cricketer, I went from as high as I've ever been, to as low as I've ever been, in the space of a day. That's the amazing thing about cricket. You've got to be so mentally strong as a cricketer to go through the emotional range in the space of days."
No player is better placed than Collingwood to pass on the lessons that England were taught that day, not even Kevin Pietersen, who also scored a century in that Test, but whose success against all opponents and in all forms of the game somehow set him apart from his colleagues. As Collingwood himself put it: "For most of my career, I've always learned from adversity rather than success."
Nearly three years on, however, and there is plenty that is different about the two line-ups, particularly Australia's, which has been stripped of many of the men who made that Adelaide turnaround possible - most notably Warne, but also Glenn McGrath and now Brett Lee as well.
"They were a team who pounced on an opportunity, and that hurt a lot," Collingwood said. "Last time they had a lot of experience and skill, and they knew about taking opportunities, which we were slow in doing ourselves. They gradually wore us down, but if you give it a good go from ball one, and if you have that aggressive attitude against Australia, you'll do pretty well.
"I guess it's about going out there and believing in yourself," he said. "They are a very good side so you've got to get your technique in place, but the mental side of playing against Australia is the crucial thing, and that's going to be new for a lot of the players in both sides. You've got to adapt your game and strategies to overcome everything that goes with the Ashes - the media hype, the atmosphere in the grounds. It's completely different."
Collingwood happens to believe that the attitude within the England team is completely different as well, and attributes that to the lessons learned in the midst of humiliation. "Coming off the pitch last time in Australia, I had conversations with the boys, and we talked about what we were going to do to make sure that [experience] doesn't happen again. It's amazing how it hits you hard as sportsmen.
"There were certainly a few nerves going into that [series] but there were also a few grey areas in the team," he said. "This time we are more confident in what we are about, and what we're doing, and that's crucial. Mentally it's a belief thing. It's not about being overconfident or arrogant, but about going at them - not in a verbal sense, but in body language."
|"For most of my career, I've always learned from adversity rather than success."|
Given the history of Anglo-Australian relations, verbal jousting will undoubtedly play a major part in the series, although Collingwood - who toughened up his game in Aussie grade cricket in the mid-1990s, and was at the forefront of England's aggressive approach in 2005, particularly in an incident involving Simon Jones and Matthew Hayden at Edgbaston - questioned whether any banter that takes place on the field can really be bracketed as "sledging".
"It's a bit of a silly word, an overused term" he said. "If it's a chat, or a joke, is that sledging? Sometimes situations come around when you need to back each other up as a team, like with Hayden last time around, but we're not going to go looking for it. With the Aussies, they sometimes sniff a moment to get right on top, but sometimes - like at Adelaide - they were like any other team that you are on top of, and went very quiet.
"They are very good at it though," he said. "I played a lot of cricket out there in 1996 as a youngster, and it's in their culture. They come hard at you, with people coming up to you who don't like Pommies, simple as that. But people react in different ways. Mentally some people take it personally and let it affect their techniques, some people don't even listen to it. We have strong characters who can stand up to it."
Whatever transpires in the coming months, Collingwood could hardly be more primed for the challenge. "I've got no need for extra motivation," he said. "From a very early age, all I wanted to do is win the Ashes, and what happened last time fuels me even more to win, no matter who is in the team.
"It can only happen against Australia, because it's the ultimate. Without putting down the likes of South Africa and West Indies, you just don't get all the emotion against any other side. When you do well against Australia, it's such a buzz because you know you're playing against the best in the world."
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