Top Performer - Paul Collingwood February 14, 2007

The journeyman arrives

Paul Collingwood has just completed the journey of his life in Australia



Paul Collingwood has been to hell and back, but lived to tell the tale © Getty Images
Paul Collingwood has spent his career being damned with faint praise. His finest performances have invariably been described as "gritty" affairs, an adjective that suggests he has had to overcome his own inadequacies before performing at the highest level. It is something the man himself has been keenly aware of, ever since his England career began with a run of 2, 9, 0 and 9 against Pakistan and Australia in the NatWest Series in 2001. "I'm getting there slowly but I'm certainly not the finished article," he said at Adelaide back in December ... after scoring the small matter of a career-best 206.

Now, however, the plaudits are pouring in, after an allround display of incredible nerve and tenacity enabled England to secure the CB Series trophy with a startling and unstoppable run of form. All throughout the winter, Collingwood had been lampooned by the Australians for the MBE he received for his solitary Ashes appearance in 2005. But after this week's events, an upgrade to a knighthood might not be out of the question.

England's journeyman pro is currently on the journey of a lifetime. If the squad as a whole feel that they have been to hell and back in Australia this winter, then no-one has travelled further or felt the heat of the furnace more acutely than Collingwood. Until Marcus Trescothick's withdrawal ahead of the Ashes, he had not even been guaranteed a place in England's starting line-up, but then gave his life and soul to the cause in England's first two Tests - only to watch his life's work crumble around him on that desperate final morning at Adelaide.

He remained standing amid the wreckage, frozen in time on 22 not out as England's last nine wickets crumbled for 60. From that moment forward he batted as if in a daze, understandably enough. He scraped together just 104 runs in the last three Tests combined, as Australia ate great chunks out of his self-belief. The malaise continued into the CB Series ... until a bout of food-poisoning at Sydney enabled him to take a break from the front line.

It was just the tonic that Collingwood needed. He returned refreshed to lead from the front with bat, ball and in the field. Against New Zealand at Brisbane, he scored his third and highest one-day century, and followed up with ten immaculate overs of cutters and yorkers to stifle the Kiwis' ambitions.

Then, in the finals against Australia at Melbourne and Sydney, he produced his finest double-whammy to date. A screeching catch at short cover sent Ricky Ponting back to the pavilion just as Australia were sizing up a vast total in the first final; then he followed up with two direct-hit run-outs as Australia shed their last nine wickets for 82.

But, needing 253 for victory, Collingwood was soon presented with yet another catastrophic scoreline. England were 15 for 3 in the blink of an eye, but this time he paced his chase to perfection, finishing on 120 not out from 133 balls, and sealing the match with three balls to spare.

Still his contribution to England's tour was not done. The second final at Sydney was another personal triumph. He didn't get a century this time, but he still top-scored with a cool-headed 70; he didn't get any run-outs but he did cling onto an early chance from the dangerous Matthew Hayden, and while he wasn't called upon to bowl his full quota of overs, he still found sufficient nerve to extract two dangerous batsmen, Shane Watson and Brad Hogg, at a time when Australia were still not entirely out of the reckoning.

The victory was the proudest moment of Collingwood's career to date, and even Shane Warne, a man with whom he had crossed swords in the Tests, was moved to admit how classy his performances had been. Australians recognise and respect a battler when they see one. There'll be no more jibes about MBEs now.

The numbers game

Collingwood started and finished his Australia tour with a bang - he made 307 runs in his first three Test innings, and 296 in his last three one-dayers. But in between whiles he suffered a debilitating loss of form, with just 209 runs in 13 innings (126 in the Tests, 83 in the CB Series).

What they say

"Collingwood has my complete respect for the way he fought back on the tour. He could be the player of the World Cup. He will go to the Caribbean full of confidence and because of his versatility will always be in games. He has made himself into an effective batsman who knows how to play situations. His bowling is a handy option and his fielding is top-drawer." Shane Warne, writing in his column in The Times.

What he says

"I went through a patch when I thought I was batting with a stump in my hand, but the century [against New Zealand] gave me a positive attitude and it's a great feeling to bring the boys home."

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo

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