Collingwood all smiles in the shires

Posted in Domestic Cricket

Paul Collingwood

Paul Collingwood is enjoying his cricket once again after returning to domestic duty

At the same time as England’s batsmen were laying into the Sri Lanka attack in front of a packed Oval crowd this week, Paul Collingwood was walking to the crease at one of cricket’s lesser known outgrounds with Durham 21 for three.

It was a poignant example of how life has changed.

A year ago Collingwood was revelling in England’s World Twenty20 triumph, fêted as the man who captained his country to a first global trophy. Six months later he chose to end his Test career amid the euphoria of winning the Ashes in Australia.

This week saw him on duty for Durham against Lancashire at a ground that is normally the domain of club cricketers. The contrast with events 200 miles south in Surrey will not have gone unnoticed by Collingwood.

Not that he was bothered by it. Far from it. He told he enjoyed watching the remainder of the NatWest Series opener on TV, more so since it was “a real good thrashing”.

Collingwood has had what in cricketing terms amounts to a rant after he was dropped from the limited-overs sides, in addition to being jettisoned as Twenty20 captain, for Sri Lanka's visit this summer.

“Disappointed” and “hurt” at the time, he is now relishing life back on the county circuit, pleasure that even stretches to “chomping around on the bus with the lads” en route to away games.

For all its charm, playing at Aigburth may be regarded as slumming it by certain cricketers who have grown accustomed to the perks and privileges of the international scene. Collingwood is not among them.

Paul Collingwood

Collingwood prospers off the back foot during his valuable innings of 45. "I felt as good in the middle as I ever have done," he claimed

Winning helps matters – Durham’s victory over Lancashire took them 23 points clear at the top of the LV= County Championship – as do plenty of runs.

Yet I suspect the Collingwood that stood on the outfield yesterday, celebratory bottle of beer in hand and making self-deprecating jokes as he chatted amiably with journalists, would not be that much different to the Collingwood that had been on the wrong end of defeat.

He can be rightly satisfied with his second-innings 45 yesterday, helping Durham overhaul a target of 181 that appeared anything but routine following the loss of three wickets in 10 overs on the second evening.

Allied to the century he made on his first-class comeback against Yorkshire two weeks ago (after knee surgery delayed the start of his season), it served to quash the doubts that had festered during his poor run of form over the last year.

“There’s a concern when you’re going through a trot like that that you’re never going to get your form back, that you’re actually done and dusted,” admitted Collingwood, with a candour rarely exhibited by professional sportsman.

“All those comments like ‘his eyes are gone’, could be true. When you’re in that form you look at all the negatives all the time. It can get on top of you when you’re not playing too well.

“I didn’t know how I’d go (for Durham). I’m surprised how much I have enjoyed it. I’ve started to love batting again – not thinking I’m going to get out every ball but thinking I’m going to score runs.”

Paul Collingwood

England's then captain savours winning the World Twenty20. He has since been replaced at the helm by Stuart Broad

Collingwood was among a select group of batsmen to play with any fluency against the moving ball this week, and his contribution would have been worth close to double in most other circumstances.

“I felt as good in the middle as I ever have done,” he claimed, reflecting on an innings that contained many of the features which came to define his England career.

There was the resolve needed to repel a hungry Lancashire attack that bowled with considerable aggression, great perseverance and no little skill.

There were leg-side tucks aplenty, courtesy of that reassuringly strong bottom hand, complemented by a handful of punchy, compact drives through the off side and the odd meaty pull.

All the while, he scampered singles like a man half his age (35, incidentally), and it took a stunning diving catch at third slip by Steven Croft – of the sort on which Collingwood built his fielding reputation – to remove him.

Consigned to the dressing room balcony as Durham nervously set about completing the job, Collingwood’s cheers could be heard above all others when Dale Benkenstein went to his second half-century of the match shortly before victory was sealed.

It said everything about a player for whom the team has always come first.

“An all-round great man” is how Collingwood described Benkenstein in the wake of his sterling contribution in this game.

Though he would never say so himself, it is a description that could be applied just as easily to Collingwood.

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