Collingwood full of early optimism

England's Twenty20 captain raring to go as South African tour gets under way
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The Independent Online

Almost all tours begin the same way. They have the freshness and optimism of the first day of spring. The players, whether they have had a week off or six months (some hope of that), are bright-eyed and rosy-cheeked, ready to resume their love affair with cricket.

Perhaps there has been the odd exception, when duffings-up have awaited in the Caribbean or Australia, but even then the tourists have generally been as excited as boy scouts going to camp. Filled with pitfalls though it is, this excursion to South Africa which begins officially today with a warm-up 50-over match against Diamond Eagles is no different. The feeling is enhanced because England sense they are starting this one-day section of the tour with a clean slate.

The Twenty20 captain, Paul Collingwood, himself sounding as though as though he could sleep with his bat after a mere three weeks' rest from the game, said as much yesterday. England have picked an audacious limited-overs squad to play audacious limited-overs cricket.

The squad of 16 present for the oddly scheduled warm-up matches, two Twenty20 matches and five ODIs against South Africa, has been picked with attack in mind. England are keen not too make too much of this in case it all goes horribly wrong against the side ranked No 1 in the world but they intend to be voracious in the field and to come out slugging with the bat.

"We have got to have a real bold approach," Collingwood said. "I am not going to go down the road of discussing the decisions the selectors have made but it's pretty much a clean slate from now on, and the management want to get the right personnel to make us a better one-day side.

"Whether that makes us more athletic in the field, whether we can hit the ball harder or whatever it is, they're going to pick the right person to be able to do that. One-day cricket is all about creating pressure and, hopefully, more athleticism in the field can give us an edge."

England's fielding has too often been pedestrian for more than 10 years and, although they now have a full-time fielding coach in Richard Halsall, there is only so much that could be achieved with the goods at his disposal. In the next few weeks it should be different and if they can be quick and precise in the field it will encourage a similar approach with the bat.

"Look around the ground," said Collingwood, "and you see the guys are faster, they can all dive well, it's part and parcel of the game now. If you can't do it you have got to be exceptional at other parts of your game."

England practised hard and long at the University Ground in Bloemfontein yesterday where conditions underfoot were slightly precarious after what was described as a tropical storm. They had some middle practice but it was still fun-filled stuff.

Collingwood, who will become England's most capped ODI cricketer when he plays in the first match of the series next week, was decidedly chipper, in keeping with both the start of tour mindset and the clean slate.

"Coming out of the Champions Trophy I was about 70 or 80 per cent physically," he said. "You never know where you are until you have had a break. It does refresh you a hell of a lot to have those three weeks at home.

"Realistically, the amount of cricket that we play now you do need something like a month, a month and a half to get the mind and the body back to where it should be. You should be going out there playing international cricket at 100 per cent. I feel great, raring to go, excited and have a big smile on my face." And yes, he had a smile on his face.

England play too much cricket because they play it all year round. Equally by the time the year is out they will have played 24 one-day internationals, three more than South Africa but some 20 fewer than overworked but still high-achieving Australia.

Jaunty they may be, these tourists, but not everything in their garden is roses. England's players have still to sign the central contracts supposed to begin at the start of October. There are said to be no insurmountable problems but unsigned they remain. There is a limit to what the happiest boy scout will do.

Probable team v Diamond Eagles

A J Strauss, J L Denly, I J L Trott, P D Collingwood, E J G Morgan, L J Wright, M J Prior, S C J Broad, G P Swann, J M Anderson, G Onions.