Colly relishes chance to put tars in shade

England's unsung hero tells Angus Fraser that while he's not a glory boy, he wouldn't mind the odd glamorous invite
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The Independent Online

A week ago the pair could be seen mixing with the rich and famous at Wimbledon, and yesterday they were strutting their stuff at Silverstone. But these invitations do not go to every member of the side. They are generally handed out to those who are, or consider themselves to be, the stars of the show.

Successful teams need performers like Gough, Pietersen and Andrew Flintoff, because they are players who are capable of changing the course of a match in four or five overs. But good teams also need a Paul Collingwood, a player who is prepared to sit in the shade and correct the mistakes made by the more illustrious members of the side.

These sort of characters tend to be slightly dour, and they love to have a little moan. But they realise the hand they have been given and simply, selflessly, get on with it.

"I wouldn't have minded going to Silverstone," Collingwood admitted yesterday, before a round of golf with Andrew Strauss and Jon Lewis at Woburn Golf and Country Club. "But I didn't get the invite.

"The job I have got is an unfashionable one, and this does get a bit frustrating every now and then. You don't get the same plaudits as the other lads do, but if you do the job well - finish games off and see innings through to the end - it is still very satisfying."

Collingwood accepts that he is not one of the most gifted cricketers in Michael Vaughan's side, but this did not prevent him being England's most influential player in their last two matches against Australia. In last Saturday's NatWest Series final at Lord's, the Durham all-rounder played a supporting role to Geraint Jones, scoring 53 invaluable runs. And at Headingley on Thursday he out-bowled Gough, Flintoff, Stephen Harmison and Simon Jones on a pitch where they should have been unplayable.

"Players in every side need to know their own jobs," he said. "With the bat it is the job of myself and Andrew Strauss to give the team a sort of security blanket. KP [Pietersen] and Freddie [Flintoff] are going to offer a more attacking option. They can hit the ball harder but the likes of myself just have to sit down, work out their role and put it into practice.

"When they start whacking it around it is sometimes difficult to do this. You stand at the other end and think 'I can do that', and at times you have to pull the reins in because you want to join in on the fun. But then you have to realise that his job will change if I get out and he will no longer be able to play as freely as he likes."

The 5ft 11in, 12st Collingwood has always been a feisty little cricketer. A fantastic fielder - the catch he took to dismiss Matthew Hayden at Bristol has entered one-day folklore - his competitive nature was witnessed during the fracas between Simon Jones and Hayden at Edgbaston, where he suddenly appeared at the side of the Australian as he walked towards his team-mate. It is there every time he walks on to the pitch.

"I had to scrap to compete when I was a youngster," he said. "I have a brother who is four years older than me and I was always very competitive with him. We used to fight like cat and dog.

"But I think through growing up with him, and always wanting to be better than him, I became a competitive little so and so. I know I haven't got the same talent as a lot of other people in the team, but I feel the mental side of the game is very important. If you believe in yourself and believe you are capable of doing the job you have been given, you can get a lot further than you imagined."

This attitude has earned Collingwood 78 one-day caps, but he is not established as a Test cricketer. The 29-year-old's two Tests came in Sri Lanka, where he showed grit and determination in difficult conditions. In three of his four innings, he batted for more than an hour and a half.

Since December 2003, Strauss, Robert Key and Ian Bell have pushed in front, and with Pietersen and Ed Joyce receiving lavish praise, he is going to need something special to make the Test team.

"It will be hard leaving this side at the end of the one-dayers," he said. "I want to play Test cricket and I want to be involved with a team that is going somewhere. I have been looking forward to this month of one-day games for a long time, and if my involvement were to go on for longer it would be excellent.

"If not, I will go back to Durham and fight like hell for a place in the winter squads."