By Shane Thomas
Back in 2005, I was engaged in a slightly drunken discussion with a guy about cricket. It was clear that he was a fan of the game like I was. When I said I used to play a bit as a teenager, he asked me what kind of player I was. In this situation it's easy for one to make themselves sound better than they are, especially when alcohol is involved.
However, I decided not to lie. I was never more than a lower order batsman who could chip in with a few overs of medium pace, even though I was pretty handy in the field. So the name I uttered in response was not Andrew Flintoff or Steve Harmison, but the recently retired Paul Collingwood.
While he was never the type to "empty the bar" when he came to bat, Collingwood was the type of player that I think every successful team needs. While Kevin Pietersen sees batting as a means of self-aggrandisement, Collingwood was the unassuming selfless sort who put the team first at all times.
While a Pietersen or an Ian Bell has been blessed with boundless natural talent to play cricket, Collingwood was the inverse of this. He was never an aesthetically pleasing batsman and seldom exceeded speeds of 75mph when bowling. Indeed, he was only ever used to turn his arm over when the more penetrative bowlers needed a rest. Often bowling on unresponsive pitches against batsman who were well set, it was a thankless task, the equivalent of flogging a lame horse. But Collingwood never once complained, always doing his bit.
And in 2009, it seemed that the measure of the man was clear for all to see. Sport is a better revelation of character than any supposed 'reality TV show'. And Collingwood had never shown more character than in the 1st Ashes Test in Cardiff.
Australia had battered England around the SWALEC stadium for four days and looked set to bowl them out on the Sunday. Collingwood came to the crease with England rocking at 31-3. He proceeded to bat for over five hours to lead England to a nail-biting draw. It proved pivotal as England made the most of their narrow escape to win the series 2-1 and regain The Ashes.
This ability to bat for long spells and be the equivalent of a batting roadblock was a skill that only he possessed. When England toured South Africa that winter, he repeated the trick of batting England from a losing position to a draw not once, but twice. England were outplayed in the series but creditably finished the series level at 1-1. And this was founded on the stubbornness and immovability of the man from Durham.
And England will also miss his fielding. Type his name into YouTube and you will see what amounts to a highlight reel of astonishing catches, no more than his stunner to remove Ricky Ponting in the 3rd Ashes Test at the WACA last month.
After announcing his retirement from Test cricket, he gave a wonderfully modest interview, playing down not only his achievements but his ability. The way he spoke he sounded as if his England career was pure luck, like he'd won a competition.
While this is typical of the man, don't believe a word of it. He averaged 40.56 in Tests, scoring 10 centuries and an Ashes double century (which is rare for any player). He has remained as part of the one-day side and will continue to extend his record amount of appearances at that format. And let's not forget he was also the man to lead England to victory in the World 20/20 Championships, the first and only global tournament won by England.
But Collingwood's greatest legacy is his work ethic. While it wouldn't be hard to find players with more talent, you'd struggle to find one who applied himself more readily. In the midst of endorsements, high wages, and an increasing desire for the media to find a marquee name who'll help them shift units, Collingwood was the welcome antithesis. He was a man who worked hard, plain and simple. Hard work, application, numerous hours spent practising, forever trying to extract the very best from oneself.
Paul Collingwood did all of this. He is a credit to his profession and is a shining example to anyone who aspires to be a cricketer.
Paul Collingwood, you'll be missed. I salute you sir.
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