Australia v England, 4th Test, Melbourne, 2nd day December 27, 2010

Time running out for Collingwood

Almost everything has gone right for England in Melbourne, but Paul Collingwood's poor form continued with another failure

"I'm probably not the best-looking batsman in the middle, and that has gone against me in the past, but my job is a run-getter not a batsman. Sometimes people forget that it is the scoring the runs that is the most important thing, and not how you get them. That is how I've always approached it."

Paul Collingwood said those words in Chittagong back in March, as he basked in the occasion of his tenth Test century, a long-since-forgotten 145 against Bangladesh that turned a strong position into an impregnable one. At the time his achievement was dismissed as a reward for services rendered, for rare has been the occasion in which Collingwood has indulged in soft runs. Take that trio of famous rearguards at Cardiff, Centurion and Cape Town, for example, where his influence in the middle had been of fundamental value to the cause. His scores in those fixtures - 74, 26 not out and 40 - were of unquantifiable consequence, even if the statistics stand out only to those in the know.

But when pressed on the subject at Chittagong, the man himself refused to denigrate his own achievement. "To get ten centuries is something I thought I'd never achieve when I first started the game," he said, as he became the 25th England batsman to reach a milestone that eluded such notables as Robin Smith and Ted Dexter, among others. It was that very determination to treat every international appearance as an end in itself, and an honour rather than a right, that turned a nuggetty county pro with a workmanlike technique into a critical component of England's post-2005 resurgence.

Nine months down the line, however, neither the "how" nor the "how many" are ticking the boxes for the doughtiest batsmen in England's line-up. Since that innings, Collingwood has led England to their maiden ICC trophy, the World Twenty20 in the Caribbean, and remains an indispensable cog in a 50-over line-up that could surpass expectations in the subcontinent come February. But at Test level he's a fading force, and at 34, and with England in sight of an Ashes-sealing innings victory, it could that the final curtain is drawing ominously nigh.

In his last 13 Test innings, Collingwood has passed 11 just three times, although true to his reputation, his only innings of note was a hard-earned 82 against Pakistan at Trent Bridge, which came with England on the brink of a crisis at 118 for 4. Either side of that, however, he's been incapable of resistance. The wiles of Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir proved too much for a succession of players in a particularly swing-heavy English summer, but whereas Alastair Cook in particular has been a batsman reborn in Australia, the same cannot be said of his team-mate.

Collingwood has looked ponderous in his five innings to date, with his 42 at Adelaide coming on the flattest deck of the series and with the score ramped up towards 400 by Kevin Pietersen's double-century. On a flyer at Perth, however - and in precisely the scenario for which he has habitually earned his keep - Collingwood missed a Mitchell Johnson inswinger by nearly a foot to be pinned lbw for 5, and then fell for 11 to the final ball of the third day's play, as England were hustled to a thumping defeat.

There was no clamour for change at the MCG because that is not England's way - under the leadership of Strauss and Flower, loyalty is of paramount importance. Privately, however, Collingwood must have recognised that he was facing another Edgbaston moment, a time in his career when a life-saving performance was required, just as he produced in his last-chance saloon against South Africa in 2008. Back then he had admitted that one slip would have meant he was a "goner", but he responded with a brilliantly bold 135 in the second innings.

This time, however, he couldn't do it, and he never looked like doing it either, not even on a slow deck that suited his low backlift and crease-bound style. He got off the mark with an inside-edge to short fine leg, his solitary boundary was an edge through gully, and though he threaded Ryan Harris through the covers for an attractive three, he fell without addition three balls later when he swiped a Johnson bouncer to Peter Siddle at fine leg.

Given the service that Collingwood has provided, he doubtless deserves the chance to leave on a high in the fifth Test at Sydney, and England's refusal to push him down the order for this contest suggests that they could yet allow him that grace. But with Eoin Morgan itching for a game after playing just one first-class innings all tour, the unsentimental - and, dare one say it, Australian - option would be to starting the planning for 2013 in the first week of 2011, and bid farewell to a battler whose journey in five-day cricket looks to have run its course.

And were he to miss out at Sydney, it would provide a strangely appropriate closure to a remarkable Test career. To all intents and purposes, Collingwood's true Test debut came at The Oval in 2005, when he was recalled to the team for the Ashes decider after a two-year gap between appearances, following the loss of Simon Jones to injury. A bowler would have been the logical selection, but England wanted a character for the toughest challenge of their careers to date.

Shane Warne famously scoffed at the awarding of an MBE on the strength of Collingwood's twin scores of 7 and 10 in that match, but looking back now from the safe distance of half-a-decade, it's easier to appreciate the discipline he brought to that performance, particularly the 72 minutes he endured on the final day, in which he drew the sting of England's pre-lunch collapse and provided Kevin Pietersen the ballast he needed for a counterattack.

Times have moved on since that series, however. England have regenerated and matured. Bell now demonstrates an ability to endure as well as sparkle, while Cook and Jonathan Trott showed at Brisbane and beyond that they can tough it out with the best of them. For another England nugget, Nasser Hussain, the realisation dawned in 2004 that his time had passed, and he retired upon completing his 14th and final Test century. For Collingwood, the ultimate team man, the retention of the Ashes, in the country in which he made his highest and most poignantly overshadowed century in 2006-07, would be every bit as fitting a finale. Especially with his unfinished business remaining in one-day cricket.

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo.

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Malcolm on December 28, 2010, 0:28 GMT

    Andrew, nice article, good to meet you in Brisbane...a nice view up in the gods. Shame to be home now.

    Collingwood has for some time been my favourite England player...nothing flashy but grit where required and totally committed. Perhaps it is right that with the lengthening of the tail, the suprising improvements of Bell's resiliance and the addition of Trott there is certainly more backbone but they would miss the catching and the usefull occasional bowling. I remember doing the Lords tour about 4 four years ago and the old guy doing the tour who worked as a steward during tests said that Collingwood was the most down to earth test cricketter of the recent generation always talked to fans, stewards and was polite and not "up himself" like many of the rest..really quite refreshing when you see Peterson who almost revels in getting out in silly ways because that is the way he plays...

    It may well be a time for a changing of the guard but it will be a pity and he will be missed

  • Dummy4 on December 27, 2010, 22:11 GMT

    Collingwood has been a great servant to the English game but there can be no sentiment when it comes to winning a test series. England need to pick six batsmen that it can have confidence will score the neccesary runs to wins. How can the selectors have confidence in Collingwood. I am afraid that time must be called on an admirable test career. I am not sure if Morgan is the long term solution however after his decent record in the summer he deserves his chance.

  • Keith on December 27, 2010, 21:53 GMT

    Look it's not the end of Colly, but chuck the Irishman in there let him have his baptism now if u're looking at 2013.

  • Finn on December 27, 2010, 21:37 GMT

    I don't think he is done, he still has a lot to offer especially in the shorter formats for England but I do think he should definitley drop down the order at the minute he's a walking wicket! However I don't think Morgan is the right solution, he's a brilliant batter in limited overs cricket but I don't think he has the right mindset for Tests, I may be wrong but I would love to see James Hildreth or even James Talyor taking up his role and even further down the line the promising James Vince could be a part of our middle order

  • John on December 27, 2010, 21:16 GMT

    Collingwood is a team man above all. He's inspirational in the field, handy to have to fill a gap in the bowling line-up and always tries 100%. However, being a good team man, I'm sure he wouldn't want to be kept in the side for sentimental reasons. The emergence of Trott and Cook on this tour has lessened England's need for his talents. With Bell finally fulfilling his potential, now might be the time for Collingwood to be rested for a younger player. I'm not sure I'd do it at Sydney, though if England win the Melbourne test then the risk isn't great. Personally, I'd leave him in the side for Sydney and start trying new test players in the next English Summer. Whatever happens, Collingwood has made a place for himself in the game's history as a member of (hopefully) 3 Ashes-winning sides and captain of the T20 World Cup winners. He leaves a considerable legacy.

  • Vishal on December 27, 2010, 21:09 GMT

    I disagree with Andrew Miller that Colly should retire from Test Cricket...Colly is a Fighter& he will revive his Test Career!

  • Dummy4 on December 27, 2010, 18:56 GMT

    simple..... give chance to morgan and drop collingwood as he s not test specialist....and morgan.... i think best batsman in england.......

  • Gottcheiner on December 27, 2010, 18:34 GMT

    I can't understand what's intended here.

    Here we have an out-of-form batsman, who you can't pretend will remain in that state, who should be replaced until he comes back into form, and the suggestion is just the contrary : to let him play the next match when still out of form and to drop him next when he can hope to come back into form. What's the logic behind this ?

  • Steve on December 27, 2010, 18:28 GMT

    Such a shame that Collys having a lean run... it happens though. Fortunately he has contributed some breathtaking fielding - just ask Ricky! If England go on the win this test, then maybe there's a case for bringing in Morgan. I don't believe it's time to discard Colly though - he's got plenty of cricket and fight lleft in him. Batting 5/6/7 makes it's own pressure when those before you are in such sublime form and let's not forget that even Belly (who has been in great from) failed too! So come on England, cut Colly some slack and maybe give him some early R+R? Now, back to business England SMASH THOSE AUSSIES! 2-1 going into Sydney will be nice and I'm sure Colly will enjoy the beach! COME ON ENGLAND!!!

  • Narayanan on December 27, 2010, 17:31 GMT

    Colly will come back .Give him one final chance in Sydney and he will bounce back. He is a fighter. Many would have forgotten the 2006-07 one day series in Australia after the thumping they received in the test and also in the ODI's Collingwood scored 2 centuries and a 70 to secure the tri nation tournament. Eoin Morgan is definitley a good prospect and deserves a game in Sydney. But i would say Colly should be playing as a mark of repsect for his prev performances.

  • No featured comments at the moment.