If you wanted to choose the dream scenario for your Test debut, what would it be? England against Australia at Lord's perhaps, the oldest-ever confrontation at the venue known for generations as the cathedral of cricket? Or maybe a rather tamer introduction, against one of the newer Test countries on your home ground?

For better or worse, there is no choice in such matters. And in the case of Paul Collingwood, the baptism could hardly have been hotter. Not only was it at Galle, where Muttiah Muralitharan most profitably purveys his wizardry, but the call had come unexpectedly after a virus hit Nasser Hussain on the morning of the first Test. Collingwood's promising performances in that game and at Kandy assured him of a place in the Test squad that leaves for the Caribbean at the end of next month.

"I like to be put into the hot pot, so I was glad it happened that way," the 27-year-old reflected. "Obviously it was a bit of a shock at the time, but it's probably good that I didn't get too many nerves the night before. And to come up against the best spinner in the world, who will probably be the best spinner ever, certainly wicket-wise, I enjoyed the challenge straight away."

Although he managed just a single in the first innings before becoming one of Muralitharan's seven scalps, the Durham right-hander batted for nearly three hours in the second, a crucial contribution on the final day as England fought their way to the tensest of draws.

"It's very hard going in against Murali, especially early doors. It only takes one ball to get you out, and it's hard to move your feet against him because he's always at you. It was a massive challenge - one of the biggest I've come across - but it was good to see all the lads learning from it, and I certainly hope I have.



Eye on the box - Collingwood faces Muralitharan at Galle
(c) Getty Images


"I spoke to Geraint Jones, and he said watch his wrist, but I didn't find that helped too much! I concentrated on a box area that he was going to bowl the ball from, and with his wrong 'un I pretty much knew there was something different. I couldn't be sure, but I'd say I was 95% certain. But his arm comes over so quick that it's very hard to tell whether it's the back of his hand or what. It's easy watching the television replays - much harder to pick in the middle."

Collingwood followed his Galle effort with 28 and 24 at Kandy, again making an important last-day contribution as England staged another remarkable escape. Although they couldn't manage a Houdini hat-trick, subsiding by an innings in Colombo, Collingwood's efforts in the first two matches had enhanced his reputation in the longer form of the game.

"I thought they were really, really hard-fought draws in the first two Tests. Everybody would have written us off, but we came back and batted through the last day on both occasions. I thought it was a great effort from all the lads, some of whom haven't played out there before, like Gareth Batty who went out there and was confident enough to stick it out.

"Everyone had a game plan, and stuck to it. The effect on morale was almost like winning, although it was obviously disappointing to lose the last game. But you learn so much about the wickets, what length you should bowl, what shots you can play, and the conditions out there - the heat and humidity - there's everything for the portfolio that should make us better players in the future, and I'm sure it will."



Collingwood cuts during his match-saving effort at Galle
(c) Getty Images


Collingwood, who is in both squads to play four Tests and seven one-day internationals in the West Indies between March and early May, is now preparing for a contrasting experience.

"The Caribbean will probably be the complete opposite. Where it's spin in Sri Lanka, it'll be pretty much all pace in the West Indies, so we'll have to adapt our games quickly to what will hopefully be fast and bouncy tracks. We'll be confident - we've got an improving side. I've not played there before, but I've heard it's a very good trip, with a lot of support that goes out there, and I think we're all looking forward to it.

"I've just watched a fair bit of cricket on television, including the West Indies' games in South Africa. It looks like Lara's fine, and the batting is the main thing in their side, but they're a very hard team to beat in their own back yard. We haven't beaten them over there for a long time."

Collingwood insists that the team is undaunted by the eventual defeat in Sri Lanka, not least as result of the spirit shown there. Tellingly, he sees that spirit as not only collective, but as a culmination of individual resilience.

"The side has character and is willing to fight - that was one of the main positives that we got out of Sri Lanka. You have to look around for characters like that - they're very hard to find, but the team is full of strong individuals who want to do really well for England. We're very ambitious, and those are the sorts of characters you need.

"If we keep on building that for the future, things are looking pretty rosy for the England cricket team. We should be confident to go to the West Indies and do really well. There's no reason why we should be negative. We're a good enough side to go out to the Caribbean and win the series."