South Africa v England, 1st Test, Centurion, 5th day December 20, 2009

Collingwood relieved after great escape

For a moment, Paul Collingwood thought he'd made a fatal decision that would cost England the first Test at Centurion Park. Off the fourth ball of the penultimate over of the match, he called Graham Onions, the No. 11, through for a single then couldn't regain the strike for the last over.

It left Onions, who holds a first-class batting average of 12.32, to face the final over of the match from Makhaya Ntini and all Collingwood could do was offer advice from the non-striker's end. Onions responded with excellent judgment and a straight bat, even managing to jab down on a typically scuttling delivery that had done for several more senior batsmen in the course of the match.

Throughout the nail-biting final over, Collingwood had visions of a one-day international at Melbourne in 2002-03 where he left the tail on strike and the last two wickets were blown away by Brett Lee to secure a dramatic and traumatic victory.

"As Straussy said, 'all's well that ends well'," Collingwood said with relief. "I was hoping I was going to get a single off the last two balls. I was thinking I must face as many balls as I can. But I couldn't get back to the other end.

"When he was stuck down there I was saying: 'Please, don't get out, don't get out - it will be my fault again'. But he was exceptional - very relaxed for a guy who probably hasn't been in a situation like that. I thought he played that last over excellently."

Despite being county team-mates for Durham, Collingwood admitted he hadn't seen much of Onions' batting talents, so he probably didn't know that his first-class batting average is almost four runs higher than that of Monty Panesar (8.58) who helped England save the opening Ashes Test at Cardiff.

"He keeps bragging that he's got the best bat in the dressing room," Collingwood said. "So I kept shouting down 'Remember you've got the best bat, just keep using it'. I was trying to keep him as relaxed as possible, and he was happy with that.

"Sometimes you can over-complicate things and the nervousness can overtake you. There was one that scuttled along the floor, and he watched it really well and got the bat on it. Once he'd done that I thought he's going to see through this over. It was a great effort."

Andrew Strauss, whose face grew glummer with every wicket that fell, didn't sound quite so convinced about Onions' batting pedigree. "I think hopeful would be the right word," he said. "I know he's got a reasonable technique. But in those circumstances, you don't want the ball that scuttles along the ground or nips back at you.

"You need a little bit of fortune on your side - and you need the player himself to stay composed, switched on and on the ball and aware of what the situation is calling for. I think he did that all exceptionally well."

Graeme Smith also expressed his surprise that Collingwood took a single so late in the penultimate over, but was left to rue not being able to dislodge Onions over the 12 deliveries he faced. "In those pressure moments batters choose to do things. He must have had his reasons," he said. "It offered us six balls at Onions but he was dogged and stood his ground."

Andrew McGlashan is assistant editor of Cricinfo