Paul Collingwood's Test retirement January 6, 2011

A man worth more than numbers

Paul Collingwood will be remembered as a cricketer who was greater than the sum of his parts

Long after he has retired from all forms of the game, not just the five-day version from which he has stood down today, Paul Collingwood will be remembered as a cricketer who was greater than the sum of his parts. Others may have been blessed with more talent, but when it came to dedication - to his team-mates, to the cause, and to the quest for his own self-improvement - he was a man with few equals in the world game.

Perhaps nothing demonstrates this better than his contribution to England's 2010-11 Ashes campaign, a series that will be recalled as a triumph long after his own tally of 83 runs in six innings has been forgotten. Collingwood's own contributions fell short of the levels he had sought, but nevertheless his mere presence in the team was a reminder of the disciplines required to succeed at the highest level. After all, he had embodied England's ultra-professional approach long before the rest of the set-up followed suit.

Collingwood had character, and that was his defining trait. For three consecutive winters until his eventual Test debut against Sri Lanka in November 2003, he toured the world as an uncomplaining understudy, soaking up the experience and never once grumbling about his lack of opportunities. Two years later, with an Ashes to be won and a critical vacancy in England's line-up following the injury to Simon Jones, it was Colly to whom England turned, for they rightly believed he had the gumption for such a big occasion.

He made 7 and 10 in that Oval contest, figures that led Shane Warne to pour scorn on his subsequent acceptance of an MBE from Buckingham Palace, but numbers alone will never tell the full Collingwood story. He survived 72 vital minutes on that nerve-shattering final day, a period of consolidation that enabled Kevin Pietersen - one of his favourite batting partners - to turn the tables on the Aussies. And earlier in the match, he fronted up with the quickest spell of bowling of his life, and should by rights have had Justin Langer caught in the slips … but the ball reached Marcus Trescothick almost before he could react.

It's been like that all throughout his career - the fractional contributions that add up to a solid body of evidence when reviewed as a whole. The three scores of 74, 26 not out and 40 with which he helped save the Cardiff, Centurion and Cape Town Tests in 2009-10, for instance, add up to five runs fewer than the 145 that he made against Bangladesh at Chittagong back in March to register his 10th and final Test century. Even when he surpassed himself at Adelaide in 2006-07 with his brilliant 206, he was grotesquely overshadowed in the final analysis. That fact alone would not have bothered him in the slightest, but England's traumatic defeat cut him to the quick.

There is a sense in which Collingwood surprised even himself in forging such an admirable Test career - 4259 runs from 115 innings (with a very remote prospect of one last hurrah) at the steady average of 40.56. But it was his personal recognition of his limitations that compelled him to extend every facet of his talent to the max. Like Ashley Giles before him, a cricketer whom Duncan Fletcher adored for his professionalism, he had no option but to give his all in every situation, because he was not blessed with the sort of genius that could rely on inspiration alone. But in doing so, he actually made himself into an inspiration.

As a Test cricketer, he played a vital role in bringing together two eras of English cricket, to such an extent that they may, in the fullness of time, come to be recognized as a single entity. First came his role in the rise of Michael Vaughan's 2005 Ashes winners, which went beyond those efforts in the final Test at The Oval. In the preceding ODIs, in which England fought tooth and nail to claim a share of the series and serve a warning that things would be different, Collingwood's influence was immense, from the staggeringly brilliant catch in the gully to remove Matthew Hayden at Bristol, to his subsequent role in rushing to the defence of Jones, after his errant throw at Edgbaston had struck Hayden on the shoulder.

But his role in the aftermath of that Ashes victory was in many ways even more vital. In the dog days of 2006-08, when England's progress was derailed by the departures of such key players as Vaughan, Jones, Trescothick and, intermittently, Flintoff, Collingwood kept the home fires burning by forging himself a career in the middle of the Test line-up, and refusing to allow the standards around him to plummet.

At Cape Town last winter, when Ian Bell finally came of age as a Test batsman, it is no coincidence that Collingwood was there alongside him for much of his famous rearguard. A baton has been passed in the past 12 months, with the former young guns of England's team taking over as the agenda-setters - men such as Bell, Alastair Cook and James Anderson, all of whom have benefitted from the knowledge that, when all else failed, Colly would be waiting to pick up the pieces.

Even during his crowning glory at the World Twenty20 in the Caribbean, Collingwood was little more than an elder statesman, calling the shots while his well-drilled team-mates did what they had been trained to do. But when, in the final at Barbados, he had the honour of hitting the winning runs against Australia, the manner in which he was pursued from the crease by his ecstatic team-mates told a tale far greater than his score of 12 not out from five balls. No-one in the team had earned the right to be triumphant quite like he had.

Likewise on this Ashes trip, Collingwood has not needed to pick up many pieces because of the excellence of the men around him in England's batting order, but that's not to say he's been a passenger in the team, far from it. His final delivery of the first innings at Sydney - and maybe even of his Test career -bowled none other than Michael Hussey, the kingpin of Australia's batting and the one player capable of posting a formidable first-innings total. Collingwood finished that innings with figures of 4-2-5-1, and the satisfaction of a job well done. His numbers, as previously mentioned, have rarely done him justice.

If there is to be a defining image of Collingwood's final Test series, however, it will surely have to be his outstanding pluck at third slip to remove Ricky Ponting at Perth. At the time it felt like the series-defining moment, with Australia reeling at 17 for 2, and so perhaps it was. Australia may have rallied to win the Test and square the series, but Ponting - crucially - could not follow suit. Had he found his form at the same time as Australia posted a win, the challenge at Melbourne would have been all the greater.

That Ponting take was one of nine catches in the series for Collingwood, the most by any outfielder on either side, but both athletically and symbolically it was the best of the lot. It told the tale of a player who would stretch to his absolute limits to do his job for the team.

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo.

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • joel on January 9, 2011, 10:11 GMT

    I presume all those who have made derogatory comments. have never considered the consequences of an Ashes defeat and a loss in SA, probable 3-1, that would've occured without Collingwood. His 74 was the most selfless, grittiest and greatest innings I have seen in modern times, having seen most. The ability to fight for your team and country without thought for personal gain, as the way he batted made a hundred impossible, is unmatched in the current era. Most batsmen would've looked for quick runs and to enjoy themselves in a losing cause, luckily for England Collingwood is neither like most players, nor like most people. His innings against SA showed a desire to play for England that I have not seen matched. Every success England have in the future can be linked back to Collingwood and the example he has set through his professionalism and hard work. In a team of underachievers, like Bell and Pietersen, Collingwood is both an overachiever and catalyst for future England success.

  • Sagir on January 7, 2011, 19:35 GMT

    very well said Mr Miller.. Collingwood's contribution to English cricket was much more than the mere sum of the runs he scored... i have always been a bog admirer of his courage, sincerity and application to the game. He may not have been the most talented of players but he surely was the most gutsy of the lot... i rate him a better player than a certain Mr Pietersen... May success follow Colly wherever he goes !

  • Online on January 7, 2011, 18:53 GMT

    contd... anyway likes its been said already, colly was more than the sum of his parts or more than his numbers suggest. he had presence in the (fragile) english team. he was respected. he was coerced by andy flower to lead the english t20 team which they won under his leadership speaks volumes of his reputation. colly, for a great player such as u, this is all we can say and this is the lest we can give you as a farewell. hope u remain inthe limited oveers steup for a while before u decide to call it quits. rant over...

  • Online on January 7, 2011, 18:48 GMT

    i'm really, really, rally disappointed collingwood is retiring. he is my fav english cricketer and i used to always have a soft spot for him ever since he played his first game. colly was not about 'technique' or flamboyance. he was about hanging in there and giving his heart out, remaning as tough and unflinching as he can even in the darkest adversity. he was a real fighter, a real soldier. if he hadnt made it as a cricketer, i'm sure he'd have done well in any other career that requires pure grit and determination. he played with pain. he played despite all the criticism. he was always there for his team-mates and he ALWAYS stood up for them. no other cricketer would do that in this day and age. his batting skills shouldnt be underestimated in any way. i wonder how many players can average 40.56 playing in swinging english conditions, the bouncy pitches of aus and s. africa and the green tops of NZL, not to mention the subcontinent where many foreign batsmen fail. (contd)

  • Online on January 7, 2011, 18:34 GMT

    @drsankalp - what u said is totally mean and ridiculous mate. To say colly is a worse than the '100 better player playing first class cricket in India' is absolutely mind-bogglingly ridiculous. I'm sure if they were even a fraction as good as colly they would be regulars in the indian cricket team. and yeah, if colly was indian i'm sure he'd have been one of their best batsmen, especially abroad, their best and fastest bowler, without doubt their best fielder, their captain in all 3 formats, probably a selector, coach, role-model, mentor to young players and the face of all cricket Indian. Nuff said.

  • Dummy4 on January 7, 2011, 15:03 GMT

    Colly inspired so many players behind the scenes. Few of us can estimate that.

  • Dummy4 on January 7, 2011, 14:36 GMT

    To Mark Checkley

    I think we are singing from the same Hymn-sheet: we both admire Colly after all, if for different reasons. Pax, eh?


  • carlos on January 7, 2011, 14:36 GMT

    As a WI fan i must say that of many of the english cricketers Strauss, Cook and Collingwood are my favourite cricketer. The reason is becuase at least when i have seen them play against the WI and others whilst they have this very strong will to win it never comes across at all cost. i am sad to see Collingwood go and want to wish him all the best, he was a steely cricketer, a man with the heart that all cricketers should have. As a fieldsmans i rate him as high as jonty rhodes, and i have no doubt in my mind that Englands successes both in the ashes has been attributable to the steel spirit that he has been able to pass on to the middle order, and his ohhh so fine catching and fielding. Make no bones about it Englands victory in this ashes was not as easy as the outcomes suggest there were some nose grinding and hard work that had to be done in all of the tests. It seems that the English batting line upwith the exception of Strauss who always played freely, and pietersen in the 200

  • Dummy4 on January 7, 2011, 12:18 GMT

    People continue to patronise Collingwood by saying "statistics aren't everything". Actually, if statistics ARE everything, he has a better Test batting average than Mike Atherton or Alec Stewart or Nasser Hussain, and no-one ever suggested that those people were not up to their job. And that's without the stupendous fielding, the unquantifiable dressing-room influence and the not-front-line-but-rather-more-than-part-time bowling. It would be more accurate to say that "style and appearances aren't everything" for, in an age where over-coaching tends to produce generations of batsmen who all look the same in action at the crease, Collingwood was not a textbook stylist. But PLEASE don't patronise the man by making excuses for allegedly poor statistics, because his statistics stand up very nicely alongside many of England's best.

  • Dominic on January 7, 2011, 11:26 GMT

    @drsankalp; I doubt many of those players you mention average 57 in India, which Collingwood did during two tours there.

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