In Paul Collingwood's mind the beautiful ground at Adelaide must hold sweet and bitter memories. During his reflective moments doubtless he dreams of its benign, bucolic nature and the imposing, neo-gothic backdrop provided by St Peter's Cathedral. And then he must break into the cold sweat of a nightmare, recalling how it betrayed and tortured him.
He might have redressed the balance towards the dream sequence yesterday by finally rediscovering a semblance of form two weeks before the first Test. That England's batting exhibition on a still, clear day on a characteristically tame pitch was fitful did not quite obscure his fighting innings (all Collingwood's visits to the crease probably merit that description) of 94.
Four years ago on this ground, Collingwood became only the third England batsman and the first for 70 years to score a double century in a Test match in Australia. His 206 over more than eight baking-hot hours was the ballast of an imposing total of 551 for 6. His virtually static second innings of 22 not out, taking well into three hours, was designed to repel Australia; instead it partially played into their hands and the tourists suffered a cataclysmic defeat in a Test match that it seemed they could not lose.
Upon returning yesterday, Collingwood was in earlier than he would have liked or expected, at 63 for 3. It was not a 63 for 3 surface. Collingwood's innings was initially cautious and a trifle careworn. He had been out of form in the first tour match in Perth, a continuation of the latter part of the English summer.
But gradually he became more fluent, whipping the ball as he always has through mid-wicket and punching it, most often off the back foot, through cover. He looked in good order and needed only 116 balls, accruing 13 fours and a six over long leg. It is true that Collingwood suffered by comparison with Ian Bell, with whom he shared a fifth-wicket partnership of 131 in 192 balls, the bulk of them in the afternoon session when the game looked largely simple for them.
But then Wally Hammond on his off-days would also suffer. Bell looks in sublime touch. Some of his cover driving, down on one knee, was effortlessly crisp. It was apposite for the lively ground. Perhaps because of this Collingwood's form seemed less assured as he went on. His bat seemed narrower, the timing less sure, so that it was not entirely a surprise when he drove with an open face into the gully when a century was there for the taking.
"When you have had good memories that obviously helps," said Collingwood. "I feel a little bit at home on this wicket. It's nice to play at grounds you have done well at and I like this ground because it has a cricket feel to it. You can take confidence after coming up against such a good attack and scoring runs, but I've always said you want to have those innings like that double hundred in a winning cause, so it will never go down as one of my best innings.
"It was important I got time in the middle to get my confidence up. It's been a while since I've made a contribution in the Test match arena and I want to go into these Test matches with 100 per cent confidence and I have to score some runs in these warm-up matches to be able to do that."
Bell was out shortly after Collingwood. How he played down the wrong line of a ball from Ben Edmondson that bowled him only he may know. In the context of what had gone before it was surprising, but Bell has been doing this for long enough, irritating his legions of admirers, a billionaire for one telling moment becoming a pauper. He went off shaking his head briefly in self-admonition but it was important for England that the crease is not a stranger to him.
It is not all hunky dory elsewhere in the order, though significant as these state games might seem (and England are taking them seriously), history has plenty of examples of batsmen doing badly in the practice matches and then scoring heavily when it comes to the Tests. Still, Alastair Cook could certainly have done with more time at the crease.
The manner of his dismissal seemed more important than the fact of it. Andrew Strauss had departed early, following a short, leg-side ball, which was well taken by the wicketkeeper Graham Manou off Peter George. It was a classic strangle but England could do with some authentic first-wicket partnerships. George, who made his Test debut in India recently but is not expected to feature in the Ashes series, also dismissed Jonathan Trott, more legitimately, when an attempted pull hit the splice and went back to the bowler.
Cook had appeared determined, gathering runs when he could but protecting his wicket cussedly as if it was his intention to bat all day. In the second over after lunch, his feet stuck rigidly to the crease, he edged a ball slated across him from George to Manou. It was not heartening. There are only so many times that the team management can say they are sure Cook will come good. Should he do so in Brisbane in a fortnight, of course, all this will be forgotten.
Kevin Pietersen flattered to deceive but though his hook ended eventually in mid-wicket's hands after a smart parry, his form seems much nearer the top than the bottom. He may not be, as he himself put it last week, on fire but there are definitely some sparks crackling there.
England declared at 288 for 8 after some late jauntiness from Graeme Swann. They did not get any early wickets. So no runs or wickets from the opening pair in either discipline. It all offered some food for thought for those looking out on the cathedral spires.
Tour match, Adelaide Oval (first day of three): South Australia trail England by 262 runs with 10 first-innings wickets remaining; England won toss
England: First Innings
*A J Strauss c Manou b George 4/0/0/5
A N Cook c Manou b George 32/0/2/91
I J L Trott c & b George 12/0/2/31
K P Pietersen c Blizzard b Edmondson 33/1/5/54
P D Collingwood c Ferguson b Haberfield 94/1/13/116
I R Bell b Edmondson 61/0/9/117
†M J Prior not out 22/0/4/31
S C J Broad c Smith b O'Brien 1/0/0/3
G P Swann c Edmondson b O'Brien 25/1/4/23
Extras (lb 4) 4
Total (8 wkts dec, 78.3 overs) 288
Fall 1-12, 2-30, 3-63, 4-95, 5-226, 6-255, 7-256, 8-288.
Did not bat J M Anderson, S T Finn.
Bowling P R George 17-4-65-3, B M Edmondson 21-4-73-2, T E Lang 14-5-39-0, J A Haberfield 15-0-67-1, A W O'Brien 11.3-3-40-2.
South Australia: First Innings
J D Smith not out 16/0/4/29
D J Harris not out 10/0/0/25
Total (0 wkts, 9 overs) 26
To bat *M Klinger, C J Ferguson, A C Blizzard, †G A Manou, T E Lang, A W O'Brien, J A Haberfield, B M Edmondson, P R George.
Bowling J M Anderson 5-1-16-0, S C J Broad 4-1-10-0.
Umpires S D Fry & B N J Oxenford.
Days to the Ashes
13 Number of Tests played by England batsman Jonathan Trott. He made his debut at The Oval against the Australians in 2009. Now averaging 55 in Tests, the South Africa-born player scored 41 and 119 against Ponting's men, to help England win by 197 runs and reclaim the Ashes.Reuse content