Collingwood ready to press Test claims

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The Independent Online

When England's selectors sat down in September to pick the players they felt should be given central contracts, the England and Wales Cricket Board gave them one proviso. It was that each player had to be challenging for a place in both the Test and one-day sides.

When it was announced that Paul Collingwood was one of the chosen eight, he was not alone in being surprised. Although the Durham batsman looked impressive during England's one-day cricket last winter, he had yet to play Test cricket. The 27-year-old had also spent most of the summer watching from the sidelines after seriously injuring his left shoulder in April.

That Collingwood was offered a contract ahead of his Durham team-mate Stephen Harmison, when he had played no cricket of any note during the summer of 2003, shows just how highly he is rated by the selectors.

"It has been a long time since my last game for England in March and it was a relief to get back out in the middle," Collingwood said. "I was a little bit surprised to be offered a central contract, because I had missed four months' cricket, but it gave me a lot of confidence.

"It shows they have a lot of belief in me. It is now up to me to go out and work hard at my game and prove that I am worthy of one."

It is well known that Duncan Fletcher is a big fan of this hard-working and tenacious cricketer, but the England coach has taken something of a risk in pushing through the selection of a player who still has a huge amount to prove.

Collingwood has performed reasonably well in the 39 one-day internationals he has played in. The man England hope to turn into the next Graham Thorpe by the 2007 World Cup scored his first century during the winter and averages 33.7 with the bat.

Last summer's Test series against Zimbabwe looked set to be the moment when Collingwood was to be introduced to Test cricket, but a mistimed dive while fielding in a pre-season friendly against Lancashire shattered these hopes.

"I was devastated to miss the whole of last season," he said, "because I was hoping to get some runs under my belt and push for a Test spot. I knew it was a bad one as soon as I fell, because my left arm was behind me when my shoulder hit the the ground.

"The operation took three hours, because there were three major things that the surgeon had to correct. He did a fantastic job and I now have 95 per cent of my movement back."

The return of Thorpe to the England Test side at the end of the summer - after Anthony McGrath and Ed Smith had failed to grasp their opportunities - appears to have knocked back Collingwood's immediate chances of breaking into this team.

"The selectors now know what I can do," Collingwood said. "But I know that doing well in these one-dayers will not automatically get me into the Test squad. I will just carry on going about my business as I have done and if an opportunity arises I will try to take it."

Today's second one-day international in Dhaka, in which England are likely to name the same eleven that thrashed Bangladesh by seven wickets on Friday, offers this popular cricketer the ideal chance to begin proving what fine judges the selectors are.