The days of Gentlemen and Players are long gone, but Paul Collingwood would have been the latter – a man who never lost sight of the fact that it was all about scoring runs; taking wickets and catches; and occasionally missing the ball often enough that your team salvaged a draw.
He was a state school batsman where his contemporaries were generally more privileged or from overseas, so he was our representative in the top six. And maybe it all goes back to that era of Gentlemen and Players, but he was subtly patronised by the public school, brahmin-esque cricket establishment for much of his career. He ‘made the most of his talent’ they said. He didn’t have much style.
Let’s get something straight: batting is about scoring runs. If you score runs, you are a good batsman; if you don’t score runs, you aren’t a good batsman.
Suggestions that Paul Collingwood ‘got the most out of his talent’ so that he could score more runs than ‘better’ batsmen are spectacularly illogical. Getting the most out of his talent is what made Paul Collingwood a better batsman than all the weak-willed stylists and technically correct teasers who trailed in his wake. Every international cricketer should make the most of their talent. That should be a given.
What is style, anyway?
Why should one stroke be more aesthetically pleasing than another? Is there something inherently beautiful about a textbook cover drive or do we learn to appreciate it because of what we hear from other people? Off-side strokes are invariably considered more stylish than leg-side strokes and this arises from the fact that the amateur Gentlemen of yesteryear played into the off-side having been brought up on true pitches, while the Professionals worked the ball to leg, because it was all about the runs.
Paul Collingwood was all about runs.
It was in Nagpur that we realised that Paul Collingwood brought more than just ‘a bit of ginger’ to the team, as he had once claimed. He scored 400 runs at 57.14 in India, which is better than almost every English batsman who’s ever gone over there. That Nagpur hundred held England together.
Forget the 2010-11 series. In 2006, an Aussie paper called him England’s worst ever number four. A lot of people said he was out of his depth. Paul Collingwood promptly scored 206.
Far from being out of his depth, Collingwood showed that he was in fact the complete antithesis of the spineless Pom who crumbles at the first ‘g’day’. It should have been no surprise. When he and Alastair Cook had both scored hundreds against Pakistan earlier in the year, Cook had revealed how Collingwood had kept the score ticking over when he himself couldn’t even get the ball off the square.
Cook was openly admiring Collingwood’s ability when he said that, but memories are short when it comes to Paul Collingwood. Where a poor series for some batsmen would be branded ‘poor form’, Collingwood was more likely to be dismissed with a curt ‘he’s crap’.
You can’t talk about Colly without talking persistence of motive and effort – grit.
Great bowling? Duff pitch? Impossible match situation? Personal poor form? All water off a duck’s teflon-coated umbrella to Paul Collingwood.
He was in dire form against South Africa in 2006 and about to be dropped. In what had appeared likely to be his last Test innings, he worked his way to 94 not out.
Kevin Pietersen had been dismissed going for the glory hundred when on 94 earlier in the day. Did Collingwood learn from this? Yes, of course he did – he learnt that you should middle it when trying to reach your hundred with a six.
How dour and functional of him.
More obviously gritty were the four-hour 74 at Cardiff in the 2009 Ashes, for which every England fan will be forever grateful, and the even more gloriously lumpen twin innings in South Africa that also led to nine-wickets-down draws. A 99-ball 26 at Centurion and a one-man leaving/missing case study at Newlands that saw 40 runs scored in more than four and a half hours.
Apologies if you think this post is a bit long, but we’ve always wanted to do Paul Collingwood justice because we feel like other people won’t. Frankly, he’s one of our heroes.