Paul Collingwood yesterday conveyed the desperate desire of England players to cling on to their places at all costs. The side's most multi-purpose cricketer (in the absence of Andrew Flintoff) has had a third and final cortisone injection in a torn muscle in his right shoulder.
It will see him through the first Test at Lord's, which starts on Thursday, and probably for another eight weeks. By then Collingwood hopes to have worked out a regime which will help him to manage the pain and continue playing.
The only other option is surgery, which would keep him out for between three and six months. Collingwood is clearly anxious to avoid that, partly because he is aware that his Test place might be put in serious jeopardy with pressure growing on all places in the side.
He sustained the injury attempting a return catch off his own bowling during a one-day match in Sri Lanka last October and has already had two cortisone jabs. Three is the limit because of the potential long-term damage.
"I guess it's the stress you put on your shoulder and we've played a fair bit of cricket since I did it in Sri Lanka," he said. "I know this cortisone will work for the next two months at least and hopefully I can manage it, keep it strong and limit it to as little pain as possible. There are never any gaps so how can you have three to six months off? Surgery is the last thing I want because you miss so much cricket and you never know how you're going to respond."
Collingwood is a tough cookie with a high pain barrier both physically and mentally but it was clearly a dilemma for him. He has played 30 consecutive Tests but for all his grittiness and runs the spectre of omission has always been looking over his shoulder, as it were.
He has grown well into the captaincy of the one-day side, despite the series loss to New Zealand and will be eager to take the side to the Champions' Trophy in September and to compete in the $20m (£10m) winner-take-all Twenty20 match against West Indies in November. Surgery is always the last avenue to go down but England will be aware that they cannot afford to take any risks by continually patching up a player.
As Collingwood explained his dilemma, his colleague Ryan Sidebottom tried to rationalise his dream year as an England bowler. He was named yesterday as the Vodafone player of the year after taking 53 wickets in his 12 Test matches.
Sidebottom, who had one wicketless Test previously in 2001, has been a revelation to all but himself since he was called up against the West Indies at Headingley last year. "All the talk was about it being one game and a horses for courses thing," he said. "I sat down with my dad and he just said I should go out there and do my best and not look ahead. I suppose I played it as if it would be my last game." England now would not consider being without him.
* The Australia batsman and vice-captain Michael Clarke may miss next week's first Test against West Indies, having been granted compassionate leave following the death of his fiancée's father.
England v NZ
15-19 May: First Test (Lord's)
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