Collingwood rescues England to convert the non-believers

England 393 India 136-1 <i>(Match abandoned at 73 mins)</i>
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The Independent Online

Paul Collingwood could not have picked a better occasion to take centre stage. In the turbulent build-up to the first Test against India England's cricketers had been keen to stress the importance of showing character in adversity, and yesterday, with his side looking set to fall well short of a competitive total, Collingwood produced an innings containing that trait and more.

Whether his wonderfully crafted maiden Test hundred is enough to take England to an unexpected victory will become evident over the next three days, but without his skill and bloody-mindedness Andrew Flintoff's side would be staring at a heavy defeat.

Collingwood received sterling support from Stephen Harmison and Monty Panesar on the second morning, and their contrasting batting styles allowed England to advance from the perilous position of 267 for 8 to 393 all out. India lost Virender Sehwag in the third over of their reply before Wasim Jaffer and Rahul Dravid halted the tourists' charge, and when bad light brought a premature end to play the hosts had reached 136 for 1.

Since making his Test debut against Sri Lanka in December 2003 Collingwood has been a bit player lurking on the fringes of the England Test side. Throughout this period he has been one of the country's leading one-day batsmen yet Test opportunities have arisen only when more celebrated players have been injured or fallen ill.

There have been many - myself included - who questioned whether he had the ability to succeed in this form of the game, but yesterday's unbeaten 134 finally proved the non-believers wrong. This was the innings of a player who deserves to be competing on the biggest stage. It was thoughtful, controlled and skilful, and should he continue to bat in such an accomplished way he will be in the team for a long time to come.

Collingwood has played five of his six Tests on the subcontinent and it is slightly ironic that the batting technique of a player brought up in County Durham seems ideally suited to the dry, slow pitches that are produced here. He may not possess the wristy flair of Asian batsmen but his game plan is very similar. Unlike several of his team-mates Collingwood refrains from playing cross-batted shots, preferring instead to hit the ball down the ground with a straight bat. It is a technique they would be wise to adopt.

Collingwood had added only six runs to his overnight score of 53 when Matthew Hoggard edged Sri Sreesanth through to the wicketkeeper, Mahendra Dhoni. With England eight down for 267 a total of 300 would have been acceptable. But in a highly entertaining partnership of 60 Collingwood, and in particular Harmison, snatched the initiative away from India.

Harmison is a wonderfully clean striker of the ball who, with a bit more work, could bat higher up the order. But the feeling is that he enjoys the role of a tail-ender who can play a few shots. He does not want to be tied down by responsibility and, after yesterday's display, England are right not to try to change him.

Sreesanth found the middle of Harmison's flashing blade as three consecutive boundaries brought up the 300. Anil Kumble was then swept for two fours and Collingwood chipped Harbhajan Singh for a straight six. But with Indian heads beginning to drop Harmison went for one hit too many and was stumped.

Collingwood was on 79 when England's third debutant, Monty Panesar, walked to the crease. In an attempt to improve his batting Panesar visited the Darren Lehmann Academy in Adelaide before Christmas and it seems to have paid off. India's bowlers caused the left-hander few problems during his hour at the crease and his determined batting helped add another 66 runs.

In an effort to get Panesar on strike India set the field back for Collingwood but he collected ones and twos by working the ball into gaps. And when the field was brought up for the final two deliveries in an over, he tried to go over the top.

Collingwood scored 96 in the final Test of England's pre-Christmas tour of Pakistan and there will have been times in the last three months when he will have wondered whether he would get a better chance of posting a hundred. At the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore he top-edged a hook at Shoaib Akhtar and was caught on the boundary. Showing similar bravado he wasted little time in moving through the nineties here. On 93 he danced down the pitch and struck Harbhajan over long-off for six. With the field up he tried to play a similar shot to the next delivery. The ball was not struck as cleanly but it sailed over long-on for three.

The England and India teams, along with another disappointing crowd, stood and applauded while the centurion rejoiced. Collingwood's fun continued after lunch, when Irfan Pathan was dispatched for a six and several fours, before Panesar was trapped in front.

England needed an early breakthrough, and it came when Sehwag chipped a Matthew Hoggard slower ball to extra cover. Hoggard continued to cause the batsmen trouble in an excellent opening spell before captain Flintoff gave Panesar an early bowl. His first ball landed on a good length and a more sympathetic umpire may have given Jaffer out leg before in his first over. The left-armer continued to command respect and a first Test wicket cannot be far away.

* In Bangladesh yesterday Muttiah Muralitharan became the first bowler to take 1,000 international wickets. The off-spinner claimed 6 for 54 in Bangladesh's second innings to put Sri Lanka on top in the first Test in Chittagong.

Muralitharan reached the mark ­ his one-day wickets combined with Test victims ­ with his second success of the third day. He has achieved the feat ahead of the likes of Australia's Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne, who is considering a return to the one-day game, and it is a landmark that eluded the prolific Pakistani pace pair of Waqar Younis and Wasim Akram.

Muralitharan's efforts helped Sri Lanka to bowl the hosts out for 181, to set themselves a victory target of 162 which was then trimmed to 137 by stumps as Sri Lanka reached 25 without loss. The Bangladesh wicketkeeper Khaled Mashud was Muralitharan's 1,000th victim ­ although he was unlucky to be given out caught by Tillakaratne Dilshan. Murali also snared first-innings centurion Mohammad Ashraful for one.

Nagpur scoreboard

England won toss

ENGLAND - First innings (Overnight: 246-7)

P D Collingwood not out 134 351 min, 252 balls, 13 fours, 4 sixes

M J Hoggard c Dhoni b Sreesanth 11 52 min, 41 balls, 1 four

S J Harmison st Dhoni b Harbhajan 39 49 min, 42 balls, 7 fours

M S Panesar lbw b Sreesanth 9 65 min, 43 balls, 1 four

Extras (b7, lb7, w1, nb12) 27

Total (513 min, 127.5 overs) 393

Fall (cont): 8-267 (Hoggard), 9-327 (Harmison), 10-393 (Panesar).

Bowling: Pathan 23-5-92-3 (nb7) (7-3-25-0, 5-1-22-1, 5-1-5-2, 3-0-19-0, 3-0-21-0); Sreesanth 28.5-6-95-4 (nb2,w1) (4-0-22-0, 4-2-10-1, 4-1-7-1, 5-1-16-0, 4-1-6-0, 3-1-18-1, 4.5-0-16-1); Harbhajan Singh 34-5-93-2 (15-2-30-1, 11-2-29-0, 7-0-34-1, 1-1-0-0); Kumble 40-13-88-1 (nb3) (8-2-21-0, 8-3-10-0, 11-4-30-1, 4-3-2-0, 9-1-25-0); Tendulkar 2-0-11-0 (one spell).

Progress: 250 360 min, 90.2 overs. New ball taken after 98.1 overs at 263-7. 300 419 mins, 103 overs. 350 470 min, 117.5 overs. Lunch 360-9 (Collingwood 109, Panesar 1) 120 overs. Innings closed 1.14pm.

Collingwood: 50 172 min, 131 balls, 7 fours, 1 six. 100 308 min, 224 balls, 8 fours, 3 sixes.

INDIA - First innings

W Jaffer not out 73 200 min, 170 balls, 13 fours

V Sehwag c Pietersen b Hoggard 2 12 min, 6 balls

* R S Dravid not out 40 187 min, 114 balls, 6 fours

Extras (b13, lb1, w5, nb2) 21

Total (1 wkt, 200 min, 48 overs) 136

Fall: 1-11 (Sehwag).

To bat: S R Tendulkar, V V S Laxman, M Kaif, ÝM S Dhoni, I K Pathan, A Kumble, Harbhajan Singh, S Sreesanth.

Bowling: Hoggard 12-4-23-1 (7-2-12-1, 5-2-11-0); Harmison 10-3-26-0 (nb1) (4-0-14-0, 4-2-10-0, 2-1-2-0); Flintoff 9-4-25-0 (nb1, w5) (4-2-10-0, 5-2-15-0); Panesar 13-3-30-0 (10-2-23-0, 3-1-7-0); Blackwell 4-0-18-0 (one spell).

Progress: Tea 41-1 (Jaffer 28, Dravid 5) 17 overs. 50 89 mins, 20.2 overs. 100 150 min, 35.2 overs. Bad light stopped play 5.06pm.

Jaffer: 50 138 min, 121 balls, 10 fours.

Umpires: Aleem Dar (Pak) and I L Howell (SA).

Match referee: R S Madugalle.

Shot of the Day

It has to be the straight six that took Paul Collingwood to 99. It was brave and well executed and the Durham man deserved to be awarded seven for it. Still, he completed his hundred off the next ball.

Ball of the Day

Matthew Hoggard has become a clever bowler. When the ball won't swing he varies his pace and bowls little cutters. One such ball did for Virender Sehwag. Kevin Pietersen took the catch, too.

Moment of the Day

Collingwood's first Test hundred. Before Marcus Trescothick and Michael Vaughan went home he was not guaranteed a place, but after 96, 80 and 134 in consecutive innings he is here to stay.