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Paul Collingwood: Durham's DNA

Paul Collingwood and Keaten Jennings put on a steady stand PA Photos

The shires were once brimming with former England captains, unwinding their playing careers in the county game. Now they are more readily found commentating, or in the case of Andrew Strauss, running English cricket. All the more reason, then, to celebrate the continued presence of Paul Collingwood in county cricket. Thanks to Carlos Brathwaite, Collingwood remains the only person to ever lead England to glory in an ICC event.

Even during Durham's years toiling at the foot of the Championship - they were bottom three times, 17th, out of 18, twice, and 16th once during their first six seasons - perhaps never did the club have to endure a crisis rivalling the one they are combatting today. It is not so much sporting as existential: the club has amassed debts of around £5 million, is unlikely to ever host another Test match, and the chief executive has even been forced to clarify that there is "no imminent threat to the future of the club".

Durham's very raison d'etre is, as Collingwood says, "for North East cricketers to be given an opportunity to fulfil their dreams in their home ground", yet already one leading home-grown player, Mark Stoneman, has announced he is departing, and there are fears that another, Scott Borthwick, will follow.

These are times that demand all of Collingwood's resolve. He is Durham cricket in excelsis, and has represented the club in 22 of their 25 years in professional cricket. Along the way Durham have had much to celebrate - three County Championships, hosting an Ashes Test, and most importantly, supplying England with an abundance of talent. Indeed, when England regained the Ashes in 2009, Peter Roebuck said it was less a victory for the country than for "Durham and the Dominions". Given the off-field circumstances, winning the T20 Blast, the only competition that the club has never won, on Saturday would be an achievement to rank with any of these.

"It would mean a lot to the club. It's a form of the game that we haven't nailed so far and we've got an opportunity to achieve something special," Collingwood says. As a man who forged a fine international career out of defying expectations, he is not the sort to be perturbed by facing Yorkshire, with all their coterie of England players, in the semi-finals.

"I don't think we've played our best T20 cricket until the last three games, but the good thing is, we seem to be peaking at the right time," Collingwood says. "Hopefully we can take that kind of form into the semi-finals and the belief that we can put teams under pressure. We've been underdogs in the last few weeks, so it's something that we're not too bothered about. It's quite nice sometimes to go out there and have a fearless attitude."

"It would be very easy to not be around, and give the responsibility to other people's shoulders but I'm not that kind of character"

That much is ensured by the presence of Ben Stokes, albeit probably as a specialist batsman, but Collingwood cites Durham's bowling, with includes Mark Wood, as their strength. "Our death bowling is becoming increasingly good in the last few games. And we've got two X-factor bowlers: Woody, who can take early wickets, and Scott Borthwick, who can turn it both ways."

But Borthwick is emblematic of the uncertainty that has been the backdrop to Durham's season. Surrey and Yorkshire are among those to have approached him out about a move. "I think it is affecting him personally," Collingwood says. "These are tough decisions for individuals to make, and a lot of mental energy is sapped from you when you try and make these decisions, so hopefully he makes a decision soon and it's a positive one for us.

"It's affected us all year, I'd be lying if I said no. But we've got to find ways to keep battling on, and finding ways to keep going out there and performing. We've been in these situations before and it is disappointing, but we crack on and get our heads down and dig in."

Collingwood knows no other way. The second act of his Durham career, since his final England appearance in 2011, already includes leading the team to the County Championship in 2013. He has just signed a contract to extend his career to 2017, when he turns 41, and wants to play even longer. While Collingwood has impressed during his forays into international coaching with England and Scotland, Durham's off-field turmoil has only reinforced his sense of duty to his home-town team.

"The club's going through a difficult period and I want to be there for them. It would be very easy to not be around, and give the responsibility to other people's shoulders, but I'm not that kind of character. I want to be there for Durham and help them out as much as I can."

Yet for all of Collingwood's devotion to Durham's cause, something else shines through: the sheer relish that he still feels playing the sport. When we meet, he is palpably downcast after Durham's thumping in the County Championship at Lord's, but his excitement at the challenges ahead remains clear. "I still believe we can have success at the club and I'm still enjoying bringing the youngsters through, which is an important role of mine. Yes, of course I still enjoy it. In the end you've got to pinch yourself that you're a professional cricketer in a sport that I love and want to play for as long as possible, as long as the form is good and the body is good."

With the bat, Collingwood's form has held up admirably in 2016: he is averaging over 40 in the County Championship, and he has made useful contributions in both limited-overs formats, even if he has been spotted batting as low as No. 8 in T20 cricket. But a combination of a broken thumb, split webbing in his hand and a bad calf have limited his bowling, which was mercilessly exposed in the T20 quarter-final at Bristol. Three legitimate deliveries that went for a total of 22; it was a mercy that, when he bowled two beamers, Collingwood had to be taken out of the attack.

"Without making too many excuses, I haven't bowled for seven weeks," he says. "But I thought I'd be able to draw upon my experience and get through an over, even though I did have a thumb splinter on. I thought it was a risk worth taking, but after three balls it was obvious that it was the wrong decision in hindsight. I'll never shy away from anything."

As good as his word, Collingwood will spend the days before Finals Day returning to bowling in the nets, ready to summon himself to bowl to Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow at Edgbaston.