England v Ireland, Super Eights, Guyana March 30, 2007

Outstanding Collingwood keeps England in the hunt



Paul Collingwood knew exactly how to pace his innings © Getty Images

For Ireland, the Cinderella story continues despite this defeat, while England will once again look back ruefully at their failure to demolish opposition supposedly there for the taking. Having failed to bowl out Canada in a group game, England were indebted to Andrew Flintoff here for mopping up what had proved to be indomitable Irish resistance.

That though is a minor quibble. At least England are still in the competition, with a legitimate chance of making the last four, while India and Pakistan, both ranked above them, spend April indulging in the bloodletting and musical chairs that always accompanies failure in that part of the world.

As long as they have a player like Paul Collingwood, England will always be in the hunt. The manner in which he paced his innings on Friday was outstanding. Content to rotate the strike when Kevin Pietersen was having a real go at the Irish seamers, he had eased to 15 from 23 balls when Andrew Flintoff made his way to the middle. He made a further 32 from 39 balls in an 81-run partnerships before Flintoff departed, and then came into his own with powerful hitting that fetched him 43 off the last 20 he faced.

That final flourish deflated Ireland, who had bowled with tremendous discipline for 40 overs. In many ways, they will look back on this match as a tale of 24 overs, five at the end of the England innings when Collingwood wrested control, and 19 overs of spin from Monty Panesar and Michael Vaughan that transformed a tricky chase into an impossible one.

"I've just been watching all the other teams," said Collingwood when asked about building his innings. "[Scott] Styris yesterday was just like that. On these kind of pitches, you give yourself a platform and make hay later on."

There was enough hay for a good old romp, with Collingwood, Paul Nixon and Ravi Bopara lashing 65 from the final five overs as Andrè Botha and Trent Johnston came in for a real pasting. By then, Boyd Rankin, the pick of the bowlers by a distance, was off, being treated for cramp in the stifling conditions.

But what he saw in the first 40 overs was enough to impress Michael Vaughan, who admitted that he would have bowled had they tossed a second time. "I played against them two years ago and the way they've improved is a credit to the players and the coaching staff," he said, before going on to praise a "great innings from Paul Collingwood".



The efforts of Boyd Rankin made Michael Vaughan rethink his decision to bat first © Getty Images

Johnston said later that Flintoff appeared to be less than fully fit, but Vaughan brushed aside any concerns when asked whether circumstances had forced his hand when it came to bowling his premier allrounder. "We didn't quite get it right for a few overs," he said, referring to a passage of play between overs 40 and 45 when Johnston and Andrew White lashed 48 runs to raise a chimera in the Guyanese heat. "You turn to your best bowler when that happens. We couldn't nail it home when we had the Irish six down, but the last five overs showed that we can get it right."

And as good as Rankin was, England's top-order batting was again devoid of imagination and urgency, in stark contrast to what we've seen from the likes of Matthew Hayden, Graeme Smith and Sanath Jayasuriya in this competition. Vaughan termed his own form "patchy" but defended the others, saying: "Ed Joyce got fifties in the last two games, and Belly just hasn't got that big score."

In truth, Bell was awful, dawdling along at the sort of rate you expect in modern-day Test matches. By the time Collingwood arrived, consolidation had to go hand-in-hand with acceleration, a feat he accomplished to a nicety. "Sometimes you come into a situation where you have to rebuild, especially here where the ball moves around a little early on," he said. "That's my job, that's what a No. 5 does."

For Vaughan, whose loopy offbreaks accelerated the Irish decline, the most important thing was two points gained. "Today's game was a banana skin," he said. "The Irish could play with no fear." They did that too for the most part. Johnston, whose late cameo raised ephemeral visions of an upset, was complimentary when asked about the English. "They've got matchwinners all over the park," he said. "And if those guys start performing, there's no reason why they can't go as far as the semi-final." Wednesday's game against Sri Lanka should reveal whether such hopes are a pipedream.

Dileep Premachandran is features editor of Cricinfo