India v England, 1st Test, Nagpur, 2nd day March 2, 2006

Collingwood makes the right noises

Paul Collingwood: 'I hope I've changed people's minds. That's up to people's opinions' © Getty Images
This was a bittersweet day for England, summed up by two sounds. First, a couple of overs before lunch, England supporters hollering and drumming on the stands as they did Union Jack-waving dances to celebrate Paul Collingwood's first Test century, which clawed them back into the game. And then, for all of the last session, the relentless thud-thud-thud of Indian bats. At the close India were 136 for one.

And, in the end, the second noise drowned out the first. England's lack of a bowler, in the absence of Simon Jones and his reverse swing, to take a softening leather ball and frighten class batsmen on subcontinental pitches is a bigger problem than a lack of middle-order batsmen, like Collingwood.

That is the cold analysis. But in the context of the game his 134 at least kept England in the match, taking them to a total few would have dreamt of at the start. Collingwood, however, was not one of the pessimists. "The realistic total was anything in excess of 300," he said. "But I was confident of trying to get up round 350, believe it or not."

And in the heart rather than the head, it felt like a day to celebrate. Until now many cricket watchers have dismissed Collingwood, the occasional Test player, as a kind of ideal next-door neighbour: neat, tidy and resourceful, and, on the few occasions you need him, always good for the right screwdriver to fix a leaking tap - or a few nurdled runs or dibbly-dobblers. A smiling face over the garden hedge and a good man to fall back on.

Today that changed. In Britain we have a noun `colly-wobbles', describing a nervous feeling of impending doom. In short, it was how England fans felt for most of the 1980s and 1990s. But not today. Today Colly did not wobble - even when on 79 he was faced with the alarming prospect of the arrival of England's last man, Monty Panesar a renowned ferret ( ... goes in after the rabbits). "I wasn't too sure how he was going to play either," admitted Collingwood. "But the balls that he did face I thought he did fantastically well."

But 15 overs of Panesar blocking took Collingwood to the cusp, and then, on 93, there was only one thing on his mind. "I was always coming down the wicket to that ball to make sure it went for four or six." It went for six, the next for three and Collingwood was home, if not dry, having batted for most of a day in sweltering heat. "It was a great relief," he said.

Earlier Collingwood's technique was more understated: choose your spot, punch the ball and then whir your legs like a schoolboy frantically pedalling when late for school. But the gentle tap of England bats soon changed to a boom when Harmison arrived at No. 10 and showed himself to be one of the best sweepers in the England team. The only thing agricultural about it was the excellent way Collingwood shepherded the strike.

So now he is looking forward to a bright future, though quite where he fits into the order when Vaughan comes back is unclear. "I hope I've changed people's minds. That's up to people's opinions. I'm always going to be pigeon-holed as a one-day player because I've played 80-odd one-dayers and only six Test matches. It's up to people to make their own mind up. Perhaps I can change people's minds." Today was a pretty good start.

But then came the thud thud thud. "I knew if you just played a dead bat, Collingwood said, "it was very hard to get people out." So it proved. Perhaps in the orange-growing capital of India it was inevitable a man called Jaffer would score runs.

Paul Coupar is assistant editor of The Wisden Cricketer and will be covering the first two Tests for Cricinfo