In the end Paul Collingwood knew his time was up. He probably recognised it before this Ashes series began but as another day went by without runs it must have become astonishingly clear.
It was typical of him that he confronted it with such clarity and determination. In Melbourne last week he told his wife that he was quitting Test cricket and yesterday, before the fourth day of the fifth Test, he told his colleagues because he did not wish them to hear from anyone but him.
He was sad to be going but he was also as happy as Larry. He was going out at the top when he might never have got off the bottom. He was the passing extra who was given – and kept – star billing. After close of play on the fourth day, when England compiled their highest ever total in Australia and Collingwood who usually does so much had to do so little, he reflected.
"I spoke to the wife in Melbourne about it and pretty well made the decision three days ago," he said. "I was hoping it would be a fairytale story and I would go out there and crack a hundred but I don't have fairytales. I know I haven't contributed with the bat this series but I am a very happy man.
"In many ways it is a sad moment but I honestly think it is the right time and in many ways it is the perfect moment. This is what I have been playing the game of cricket for – to be in a position like this against Australia in Australia."
Collingwood achieved as much as he did in Test cricket – 68 Test matches, 4259 runs, an average of 40.56 – precisely because he knew his shortcomings. He realised what he had to overcome and he never let them slip far from mind. There were always people there to remind him but he usually reminded them first.
"I am very satisfied with the contributions over my Test career," he said. "I can't have been easy to watch for some people at times, but I have fought hard and given it my all. I have probably played the last year just to get into this series. I had a good series in South Africa which pretty much cemented my place for this series and to be involved with a great team like this, with some special players and characters, it is a very proud place to be. I have made the right decision at the right time."
As England squeezed Australia dry again yesterday Collingwood tried to take in the moment. He was clearly overwhelmed by the huge surge of English support around the ground. "I'm a softy really," he said. "There were times there tonight I had goose bumps. I always said I wanted to bow out in England in front of English fans and that felt like home tonight. The atmosphere out there was special. All the lads standing in the slips were all looking at our arms and we had goose bumps going up them. It honestly feels like the perfect moment."
Collingwood has appeared in three Ashes-winning series but this may begin to match 2005 simply because of its overwhelming nature. He was around, it should not be forgotten, when England were used as punchbags by Australians and if ever they rebounded they were punched again.
"I first experienced an Ashes series out here in 2002-03," he said. "I don't think the belief was there at the time that we could beat Australia and there was a kind of culture that we had to turn around. It didn't work last time here but we have got skilful cricketers in England and now we have a culture that we believe we can beat anybody in the world.
"That part of the game, the mental side and the belief, is huge and creating a culture like that in the dressing room is probably more important than technical work you do in the nets."
Nobody would underestimate the size of Collingwood's contribution since he forced his way unexpectedly into the Test side in 2003. He did not play again for another two years, when he was summoned belatedly for the 2005 Ashes, when Simon Jones was injured. It was the chance he had longed for. Gradually, he became a fixture and his brand of toughness could only be admired.
Matt Prior, who became England's sixth centurion of the series yesterday, said: "The part of cricket you don't see is the part away from the cricket ground. Everyone will know the stats, the important innings he has played, the great catches he has taken, the wickets he has taken, Hussey yesterday, it's phenomenal but it's what a bloke like Colly brings to the dressing room. He's definitely been one of the catalysts for why this team is where it is right now and why the team spirit is like it is and how close this team is."
Collingwood scored 10 Test centuries but perhaps his most memorable innings were rearguard actions, starting in that first match in Sri Lanka when he made 36 off 153 balls. There was to follow his last-ditch effort at Cardiff in 2009, (74 from 245 balls in almost six hours) without which the Ashes might never have been regained and this tour might not have been possible. In South Africa last winter, at Centurion and Cape Town, he twice held out when most of the other batsmen had gone. You could almost see his jaw jutting out from beneath his helmet.
"It was always a dream of mine to play Test cricket, it's the ultimate form of the game," he said. "But I think this series has been a special series – 2005 at The Oval was a special game, but although I haven't scored the runs out here I haven't been able to take the smile off my face.
"This has been something I have been waiting for for a long time. The last time we were here four years ago I actually managed to score runs and we got beat 5-0, I much prefer it this way round, let me tell you." A team man to the end.
Collingwood's Test career
Debut v Sri Lanka 2003 in Galle, 68 Tests
Batting 4,256 runs @ 40.56; 10 100s, 20 50s
Highest score 206, v Australia, Adelaide 2006
This series 83 runs @ 13.83
Bowling 17 wickets @ 59.88
Best bowling 3 for 23
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