England v Australia, 1st npower Test, Cardiff, 5th day July 12, 2009

The 'tenacious little redhead' does it again

Defeat today might not have been as painful for England as a collective, given how little of the match they had actually commanded, but for Paul Collingwood personally it would have been a low without compare

In Johannesburg in December 1995, when Jack Russell and Michael Atherton came together in a final-day stand that not only saved the second Test against South Africa, but also set a benchmark for English defiance, a single painful memory provided the mantra that carried them to the close.

"Remember Bridgetown" was Russell's eternal cry, as he fidgeted through his overs, and implored himself and his partner not to give away the game. The ghost he sought to lay was the fourth Test in the Caribbean five years earlier, when his five-hour 55 had hauled England to the brink of salvation against West Indies, only for a Curtly Ambrose shooter to breach his defences in the final hour of the match, and set them up for a traumatic 2-1 defeat.

Today Paul Collingwood had a similar skeleton rattling in his closet - and his was even fresher in the memory. Adelaide in December 2006 was his touchstone, a game - in his own words - that had "ripped the guts" out of him in defeat, when not even a first-innings double-century and a lifeboat-manning 22 not out second-time around could rescue England from a defeat that traumatised their campaign.

Defeat today might not have been as painful for England as a collective, given how little of the match they had actually commanded, but for Collingwood personally it would have been a low without compare. At the close of the fourth day he had blinked with slight bemusement when a journalist asked him how "soul-destroying" their three days in the field had been, the implication being that it takes more than a few hours of hard yakka to crush his fighting spirit. To have come so close to rescuing this Test, however, only to give it away - as he feared he had done with what turned out to be 69 deliveries of the match remaining - might just have prompted a more crushed response to the same question.

Collingwood was magnificent in his defiance today. The Australians still find it hard to rate him in public - it doubtless suits their purposes to keep his qualities as downplayed as they are in the estimation of a fickle English public and media, who forever seem to be ushering his career towards the exit, and Ricky Ponting's praise for his performance had to be prised with a crowbar. Privately, however, they cannot help but admire the mongrel he brings to England's game. He's the closest thing to a little Aussie battler that England can produce from their dressing-room.

"He played very well, and did exactly what was required for the team," said Ponting. "He gave himself every opportunity to do the best job that he could. It shows a lot of courage to face the majority of the bowling through the course of the afternoon. He did a great job, and deserves a pat on the back."

For 245 deliveries, spread over five-and-three-quarter hours, Collingwood prodded and poked with that pugnacious crease-bound style, dispensing with frivolity and digging his team out of yet another hole. There's no way he will ever receive the credit he deserves for fronting up for England at the moments they most need his grit, and it was strangely appropriate that even in his Athertonian hour of glory, he still wasn't the story of England's day, given how far the final pair of James Anderson and Monty Panesar were left to haul their side.

But in his last 12 Tests, dating back to his career-saving century at Edgbaston last summer, when his form was hanging by a thread and one mistake was sure to be curtains, he has scored 989 runs at 61.81, with four centuries and a 96. There's nothing more he can do to be a hero to his team.

"He just brought his character into the performance today," said a grateful England captain, Andrew Strauss. "He is a tenacious little redhead, that is what he is, and that's how he plays. He never takes a backward step, and he fights. He keeps fighting and that's kind of how he got his path into the Test team, and it's the only way he knows. In circumstances like that you always expect him to do something along those lines, and I suppose it just underlines his value to the side really."

Collingwood's Test average is now a doughty 44.84, and Lord's will be his 50th Test. It is a milestone he deserves to relish, because he has somehow been regarded as a stop-gap, right from the moment he was recalled to play in his first home Test at The Oval in 2005, as a replacement for a man who watched longingly from the stands throughout this game, Simon Jones.

Defeat today might not have been as painful for England as a collective, given how little of the match they had actually commanded, but for Collingwood personally it would have been a low without compare

The Aussies reacted with bemusement and scorn when he was rewarded for his efforts in that outing (scores of 7 and 10) with an MBE, and it was a fact that Shane Warne in particular took great glee in reminding him of throughout that Ashes whitewash. He personally has never yet beaten the Australians in any of his seven Tests against them, and today came perilously close to becoming his sixth setback in a row. But all such slights came coursing through his veins today, as he took it upon himself to teach his England team-mates exactly what passion is required to go toe-to-toe with a nation that never takes a backward step.

Strauss and his batting colleagues, Kevin Pietersen among them, could only watch and admire from the dressing-room, as Collingwood set the standard for a very impressive rearguard. Graeme Swann took his blows manfully and showed that his feat of not being dismissed in Tests since December was no fluke, while James Anderson, flaky with the ball and tremulous in front of the cameras, showed yet again that he has a character beneath his diffident veneer, as he carried his run of duckless Test innings to 50 not out - a world record he protects with pride.

And then there was Monty Panesar, quite possibly the most mocked tailender in the country. Even he was touched by Collingwood's fighting qualities - blocking the straight ones, leaving the wide ones, and refusing to yield for an instant - as he credited the influence of his "cricket buddy" on his performance. "We've been working on a few things, and while I was out there I was just trying to get my thoughts in that way, and we kept communicating which helped us to be calm in that situation."

Collingwood deserves this day more than any of the players in the England team, and he is also the likeliest to use the experience the most wisely. When Australia escaped with a draw at Old Trafford in 2005, it was suggested they celebrated the moment too hard, and gave England confidence that they still had their measure. Collingwood has never yet felt comfortable enough in his career to allow such thoughts to hold sway. England ought to be a grounded unit, going into a vital Lord's Test on Thursday.

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Michael on July 13, 2009, 11:16 GMT

    What a thriller that was, and a great baptism for a new venue. Collingwood really showed how to fight for his wicket,as so often before-a case of when the going gets tough the tough get going. He's like Steve Waugh,Sivnarine Chanderpaul. Well done the lower order too. But some techniques in the upper order need a lesson.Down at worcester Moore showed how to play very straight down the line-cp to Cook and Bopara here(the Essex shot!).KP does the hard work but where is his head? needs to relax I suggest. For next Test I would bring back Hoggard! Yes. Too many left handers in the top order not to I would suggest. Otherwise apart from getting Vaughan to change his mind and finding miracle cures for the sidelined sick and injured, there is only really Harmison to turn to,but he needs to be hypnotised and told he's actually playing for Durham with the England team.

  • Jonathan on July 13, 2009, 9:59 GMT

    Collingwood for No. 3 anyone? Bopara down to 5?

  • Richard on July 13, 2009, 7:33 GMT

    Paul Collingwood has become, or is at least in the process of becoming, the most admirable of Englands' current crop of players. If I wanted one player to go out and bat for my life it would be Colly. Despite England being outplayed for much of this match, I reckon they are now psychologically slightly ahead in this series.

  • Aashutosh on July 13, 2009, 7:16 GMT

    Great Article....Mr. Miller. Collingwood indeed is a great fighter. That was a real eyewash innings for all other English batsmen. Collingwood's effort laid the perfect platform for Monty & Anderson to take the test to an exciting draw. This is real CRICKET. Its not easy to get obliterated by some new junky called T20.

  • Amahl on July 13, 2009, 7:03 GMT

    I have never been a fan of Collingwood the batsman but Collingwood the individual is someone whom I admire for his mental toughness and ability to prove people wrong, particularly the millions of critics who feel he doesnt have the ability to survive in test cricket. His innings reminded me of Punter's 156 4 years ago which helped us to save a test. He deserves to be commended as the ONLY England batsman who really put their hand up. The others couldn't quite do it which was surprising on a track which wasn't offering much. Certainly its disappointing we couldn't win but we have to give it to the tenacity of Paul Collingwood who, at the moment, is arguably England's top batsman in test cricket.

  • Raghuraman on July 13, 2009, 5:04 GMT

    To me, Collingwood has always been a sincere and combative cricketer. He may not be flashy or skilful as say Pietersen, but he has always looked focussed and more importantly sensible. I am aghast at what Monty was trying, looking almost desperate to get run out. It looked like Monty, Pietersen and co have been trying to spoil the efforts of Collingwood. Talented,maybe, but they really have to given a dressing down and not just a long look at the mirror but also look at Collingwood for inspiration.

  • Vivek on July 13, 2009, 4:42 GMT

    Colly s folly The rearguard that he provided was vital in saving the match. Well and good. But I had a slight fear that this might turn out to be another Adelaide where he made his way to 22 not out and running out of partners. Thankfully Monty and James dint let him down . All went on well, but i would have still liked him to play a little bit faster ,so that the deficit is cleared and they ll move ahead of the AUssies. This way, the AUssies need more time to get hte runs, as well the chances of draw are more realistic.

    And what a fighter he has been. Amidst the few players who talk and dont deliver, he is one who talks very less and delivers more. Even though he spoke about "soul destroying 2 days" , he still played valiantly. Youngsters like Cook,Bopara should learn this art of saving from him.

    Welly done Colly, but a little faster next time. :)

  • Mainuddin on July 13, 2009, 3:25 GMT

    Great article. Collingwood is the Steve Waugh of England. If there is a bit more swing at the Lord's pitch England can definately win there for the first time since 1934 .

  • Luke on July 13, 2009, 3:22 GMT

    From an Aussie's perspective it's obviously disappointing to go to Lords nil all but you need to take 20 wickets to win a test match and Eng prevented that from happening. Well done to the Old Enemy. Congrats to Hauritz and a humble apology from myself is deserved. As always when critical of selection or an individual player I love to be proven wrong. The series is set up a little different to what I expected: I think it will come down to a batting performance whereby the team batting first makes 450 plus. The irony is that a lack of penetration prevented a result - a fear that many Aussies carry since India. Aus played more like a team in this match (batting in particular - very disciplined) while KP should be fined for his attitude on the field, off it and just by being around. Toughen up bloke: your country needs you. Hughes wasn't moping around the field after making less than he wanted.

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