Paul Collingwood thought it was better than Christmas. Called up into the Test squad as well as the one-day team and given one of only eight 12-month England contracts.
"It was a surprise," he says, putting it mildly. The concept is so new that he does not know how much he is worth. "I haven't looked into it, to be honest, but it isn't the money. In the end I want to be the best cricketer I possibly can."
Collingwood was in Bristol playing only his third Championship game for Durham since his return from a brutally dislocated shoulder in April. Sweat stood out on his brow after a long warm-up session. He looked lean and fit. So he is. Never felt fitter in his life, he says, never worked harder either.
Collingwood's summer is an instructive story of "phenomenal desire and work ethic" (the observation of Martyn Moxon, his Durham coach) that was transformed into an encouraging team effort by the dedication of the medical and fitness specialists at Durham and England. Collingwood was gone for most of the season, but he was not forgotten.
Last winter he established his place in the England one-day team with an accomplished hundred against Sri Lanka at Perth. He was 26 then, and the promise he had shown in his early twenties seemed to be maturing nicely. England's coach, Duncan Fletcher, admired him, and Collingwood was hoping for a Test place against Zimbabwe, but his world crumbled on 16 April in a warm-up game at Old Trafford when he dived to stop a ball.
The pain from the shoulder was so acute that he knew immediately that he would be out for a long time. In his frustration, he swore at Nigel Kent, the Durham physio, but Kent was at his side at the Manchester hospital holding the left arm upright for four hours while X-rays were taken and studied.
The surgeon told him to do nothing for a month. "The first eight weeks were a nightmare," says Collingwood. But he could not let go of cricket; he played mind games to toughen the mental side of his game. When the surgeon told him no weights for three months, he worked with thera-bands (strong elastic) to rebuild his arm muscles instead.
He was in the gym daily and saw the physio twice a day. "As long as you're not stupid you can push yourself just a bit harder," he says. The club let him travel with the team so that he could stay close to Kent, and they were in Worcester early in July when he first held a bat, one of the lighter models Martin Love, the overseas player from Queensland, uses for practice.
Fletcher bonded Collingwood to his England one-day team-mates by asking him to join them for the NatWest Series, and the support staff were on the phone every couple of weeks. When Collingwood could turn his arm over at last Troy Cooley, the England bowling coach, invited him to work with him in the nets at Headingley during an Under-19 international.
By mid-August he was in Durham seconds, and back in the first team at the first opportunity. He was so anxious to get back that his natural attacking style got the better of him. "I wanted to get at the ball, and that's not very good for your technique," he says. The runs have still to flow, but the hard work has paid off.
Less driven players would have taken longer to recover, but Collingwood had a goal: "Getting picked for the tour, that's what it was about," says Moxon.
David and Janet Collingwood, Paul's proud and relieved parents, were sitting by the sightscreen in front of the Grace Pavilion. Like father like son; they share a slim face and a prominent nose. But David identifies a crucial difference. He was a good enough opening bat to have a minor counties trial with Durham, but he was too "laid-back" (his phrase) to play more than club cricket. This suggests that Paul's passion and commitment, along with his ginger hair, came from his mother.
But David was the one who took Paul to Shotley Bridge's club, where he also helped to prepare the ground. Paul was in the Under-13s when he was eight, and his father told him to concentrate on cricket rather than football when he was in his early teens. He was a swing bowler then, until a bad back forced him to spend a year off in rehabilitation. David thinks this setback persuaded Paul to concentrate on his batting.
When he came into county cricket, he was a batting all-rounder. He still is, but he appreciates that a place in the Test team may depend on a substantial improvement in his bowling (no less than 30 to 40 per cent, he says).
With Graham Thorpe and Andrew Flintoff at No 5 and No 6 (the keeper at No 7) Collingwood would be hard put to squeeze a Test debut as a batsman. Until one of the older batsmen retires, his best chance may be to become the fifth bowler.
He already is in the ODIs. His 4 for 38 won a game in New Zealand, as did his hundred in Perth. But his bowling average (16 wickets at 41.56) is higher than his batting average (32.37 in 16 ODIs).
According to Moxon, what Fletcher likes is Collingwood's attitude and ambition. "He's a three-dimensional cricketer and he'll grow into Test cricket. He wants to play for England, that's it," he says. Despite his ill luck, Collingwood has got his foot firmly in the door.Reuse content