Should England reach the final of the Champions Trophy – stop laughing at the back – Paul Collingwood will become their most capped one-day cricketer. The latest campaign to win a major one-day tournament for the first time begins today against Sri Lanka.
It is a match that pits a team in ominously good form against a team in distinctly abysmal form and it is impossible as yet to be enthused about England's prospects. If Sri Lanka are to be defeated, as is probably necessary for England to sustain realistic aspirations of progressing from the group stages, Collingwood's experience is likely to be a crucial factor.
There would be something wholly appropriate about his overtaking Alec Stewart's record of 170 appearances in limited overs internationals in the Champions Trophy final. He has been a highly combative all-rounder who has taken his talents to their limits and one of his two remaining ambitions is to win a global one-day competition.
England have so far failed to do so in 16 attempts (nine World Cups, five versions of the Champions Trophy, two World Twenty20s). The other seven of the eight major cricket countries – the ones taking part in this tournament – have all won at least one. It is a case of not knowing whether to laugh or cry at such a record but either way a handkerchief will be needed to wipe the tears from the eyes.
They could not be accused of peaking at exactly the right time this time. But somehow today they have to put behind them the recent 6-1 home defeat against Australia. It is fortunate for them that the match is being played at Wanderers where the surface has pace, bounce and movement and not at Centurion where the pitch has been slow bordering on deathly.
"Centurion would play right into their hands," said England coach Andy Flower. "Wanderers turned a little yesterday but certainly the bounce and pace of the pitch will suit us better. It will help the quicks. We struggled to take wickets against Australia as well. We contained them reasonably well in most situations but we struggled to take wickets."
But the real challenge is for the alarmingly under-achieving batsmen. They will be further tested today by having to face in the middle overs not only Muttiah Muralitharan, about whom they know everything without understanding much, but also the other spinner Ajantha Mendis, about whom they almost nothing and therefore understand less.
The key to the match probably lies in the manner they are tackled but Sri Lanka also have genuinely incisive pacemen in Lasith Malinga and Nuwan Kulasekara, the world's top-ranked one-day bowler. It is a fixture fraught with hurdles for England.
"We all had our frustrations in the one-day series that we have just played," said Flower. "We underperformed badly with the bat and this is an opportunity to put that right. It was very frustrating for us all and very frustrating for them as well. That doesn't mean we give up on them. We have picked these guys because of their performances in the past."
As for Collingwood, he is preparing for a lot more international cricket yet. He was astonished at being described in these columns earlier this week as a player on the slide and and could hardly stop laughing. It would be just like him to disprove such an assertion though he has looked extremely tired of late and prone to mistakes. He had to be rested for three games in the recent one-day series in England for his own good.
He said: "On the slide? Of course it's ridiculous, that's why I'm laughing at it. I have nothing in my mindset anywhere near as negative as that idea.
"I think I can still get another three years out of my body and mind and can still improve. I have a couple of things I really want to do in terms of my career. I want to win an ICC tournament which we've never done and I want to beat Australia in Australia and I intend to be there, it's as simple as that. I will do whatever it takes to get there."
And so he will, beginning today at the Wanderers.Reuse content