Collingwood sees win over Australia as key

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The Independent Online

If the Pakistan drugs scandal was hardly heaven-sent for England, considering the repercussions for the game, it was definitely convenient. Instead of England having to explain, excuse and exhume in microscopic detail another lamentable one-day performance, matters relating to performance-enhancing anabolic steroids took precedence.

By the time the inquest on the defeat by India resumed yesterday, the passing of 24 hours had lent a different perspective. The performance had not improved - no chance of that because 125 all out is woeful on any pitch - but they had dusted themselves down and could think of starting all over again. What happened against India was in the past, what might happen against Australia was the future.

"I think it's ideal to have the kind of gap we've got between games," said Paul Collingwood, almost alone in acquitting himself adequately in England's opening match of the Champions Trophy. "You can recover and regroup and, certainly when you've lost, it's better to have a bit of time to talk, learn lessons, see where you can improve."

There seems to have been a collective decision in the squad to talk up the game against Australia, a must- win affair for progress in this competition, while talking down its relevance to the Ashes. Collingwood did not quite toe the party line. "Australia have some points to prove and they have the opportunity on Saturday to do that," he said. "It's always exciting when you play against Australia because they're the best side in the world, more so because the Ashes are coming up."

There is then a twin incentive: beat Australia and the chance of making the semi-final of the Champions Trophy increases, as well as laying down an early Ashes marker. England cannot, in truth, have it all ways. In 2005, they made much of the effect of one-day victories in the 2004 Champions Trophy in England and an overwhelming Twenty20 victory at the start of the Ashes summer.

The nature of the pitches on which the matches are being played, in both Jaipur and Mumbai, has rightly occasioned some harsh criticism. Neither has been conducive to run-scoring and if the tracks at Ahmedabad and Mohali, where the next phase will be played, follow suit, the entertainment factor will slide further. "Crowds and people watching television want to see runs scored, but these low-scoring, tight games can be interesting," Collingwood said. "Batsmen have to be determined, graft it out." Maybe, but it was not why one-day cricket was invented.

As an ambassador for UK Sport, along with the likes of Paula Radcliffe and Jonny Wilkinson, Collingwood keeps abreast of the rules governing drugs. He understood the problems confronting the Pakistan bowlers Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammad Asif, who have been sent home from India after testing positive, but hardly sympathised. "It can be frightening sometimes," he said. "[But] every team has doctors, and so on, and in the end it's up to the player to check these things."

* England's chairman of selectors, David Graveney, said yesterday that he was "very confident" that the opener Marcus Trescothick would play a full part during the Ashes series.

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