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Collingwood hits peak of career built on courage

England's new one-day appearances record holder has made most of his ability

At a rough estimate, Paul Collingwood's career has consisted of 10 per cent talent and 90 per cent perspiration. He could not have done it without the sweat.

No player of any sport anywhere has so epitomised the notion of making the most of the ability at his disposal. In its way it has been a miracle because when the well, never full, has run dry, he has somehow been able to re-stock it. Sometimes he has needed a dowsing rod as much as a bat.

It has been a privilege to watch these guts being exhibited for the past eight years and when Collingwood plays for England against South Africa in the first match of the one-day series between the sides tomorrow, he will become the country's most capped limited-overs cricketer. He is confident of making his 171st appearance, taking him ahead of Alex Stewart, after recovering from a back spasm.

Who would have thought it after his first four wretched matches in the summer of 2001 against Pakistan and Australia, a foray into the big time which yielded scores of 2, 9, 0, 9, no wickets and no catches? There have been times since, especially if not exclusively in his Test career, when it looked as though the game was up, that perspiration was not going to do it any longer.

"Who would have thought it?" repeated Collingwood yesterday as he reflected on an unexpected landmark. "Certainly not me after four games. When you've played so many games, along the way you've got to have a lot of luck and I think I had that after those four games in being selected for Zimbabwe."

An innings of 77 in Bulawayo later that year transformed matters. It helped to secure victory against a Zimbabwe side containing the present England coach, Andy Flower. "Up until then I'd shown no signs whatsoever and it hurts you," Collingwood said. "Although it wasn't the most exceptional opposition, it was probably that moment when I knew I could do it as an England cricketer."

He has done it many times since, frequently when the circumstances have been at their most unpropitious for him and the team. On the last tour of Australia, after a good start, he could not buy a run. He was on the verge of exclusion but after missing a game because of illness he came back with scores of 106, 120no and 70 in three games. The middle of those innings, in Melbourne, remains his personal favourite.

"I think it's fairly evident that I try to get the most out of what ability I have," he said. "It's pretty much my motto. The game seems to contain a lot more power than it used to so you have to change your technique all the time as well. I'm constantly tinkering.

"There are lots of times I have been worried about my position, what the future is going to be, if you don't do well in a certain game. But these are times everybody goes through."

Such a fixture in the team had he become that in 2007 he was made captain. The tenure lasted 25 matches and was beset by controversy when Collingwood and England had an appeal for a run out upheld against the New Zealander Grant Elliott at The Oval after a mid-wicket collision between the batsman and Ryan Sidebottom. Collingwood said he had no regrets but had learned from the mistake. He gave up the captaincy for the obvious reason. "I'm so glad I did it and I still enjoy doing it in the Twenty20s," he said. "But as we all know I find it mentally draining. I have got to put a lot of effort into maintaining my own game and looking after a squad of 16 or so on tour, it's very difficult."

Collingwood, who has also played 53 Tests which might be a greater surprise, is England's fourth highest ODI runs scorer, sixth highest wicket-taker with his ever gentle seamers, easily the most prolific catcher and has had 75 team-mates.

He was a tired cricketer at the end of the English summer – "a player on the slide," it said in these columns – but that was merely power to his elbow grease. He got out the dowsing rod again. There are more runs and wickets to be squeezed out yet.