You cannot help but admire Paul Collingwood. When England's Ashes prospects were being assessed and the match-winners were being identified, the name of the Durham scrapper was rarely mentioned. Yet, for the second Test in a row, Collingwood has set the perfect example, providing Andrew Flintoff's side with the fight and endeavour they have been desperately searching for.
Collingwood fell for 96 in Brisbane, when he advanced down the pitch to Shane Warne and was stumped. Yesterday, at the end of the first day of the second Test, he retired to the visitors' dressing room unbeaten on 98. He received excellent support from Ian Bell, who scored a steady 60, and Kevin Pietersen, who batted with typical élan for 60 not out.
Before the arrival of Pietersen, the cricket had been attritional and not particularly pretty. But that was because Collingwood does not do pretty. He is not interested in pretty. All he wants to do is score runs for his country, and he could not give a damn how they come.
Yet it would be wrong and disrespectful to say that Collingwood has no shots. He does. They may not come with a Pietersen-style follow-through and the ball may not splinter the picket fence when it hits it, but Collingwood collects his runs by placing the ball into gaps with skill. If it goes for four, all well and good. If it does not, he will run hard, push the fielders and scamper as many as he can.
The pitch and the quality of Australia's bowling before it tired at the back end of the day made runs hard to come by. Ricky Ponting soon realised that this was not a surface where his attack was likely to blast out the opposition, so he set realistic fields and his bowlers bowled to them. Such tactics may sound slightly boring in an era when runs are scored at an alarming rate, but there are days when Test cricket has to be played like this, and how Flintoff would have liked to have had such resources to call on in Brisbane.
England would have loved to have gone out and dominated proceedings after winning a crucial toss but there are times when the batting side has to show respect, especially against an attack containing bowlers of the quality of Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne. Ponting tinkered with his fields and the bowlers changed their angles of attack but Collingwood, Bell and Pietersen stood firm. Warne will bowl far worse and take a bag full of wickets but it was hard to understand why Stuart Clark bowled only 15 overs when he was once again Australia's best bowler.
The contest, which crept along at little more than two runs an over before the arrival of Pietersen, may not have excited large sections of the 31,458 crowd - the largest at the Adelaide Oval since the Bodyline series of 1932-33 - but it was enthralling to those who love cricket. Watchful and determined batsmen were made to work hard for their runs against a high-quality bowling attack. There is little wrong with that.
When Clark took the wickets of Andrew Strauss and Alastair Cook in his opening spell, there was a feeling that England were about to waste their best chance of getting back in to the series. Both openers were out to poor shots. Strauss chipped one to wide mid-on and Cook edged a loose drive through to Adam Gilchrist.
The loss of two wickets encouraged Ponting to give Warne an early bowl and he immediately got the ball to turn. It was slow turn, but there was enough sideways movement to raise even Duncan Fletcher's eyebrow, following his decision to leave Monty Panesar out of the side.
Bell and Collingwood dug in against their vibrant opponents. Clark and Warne gave the pair very little to hit and at lunch England were 58 for 2. The manner in which Bell played Warne was in stark contrast to Collingwood, who used his feet nimbly, nudging and nurdling the ball in to the gaps.
Warne looked as though he would get Bell out with every ball he bowled at him at the start of his innings. The ball spun, Bell groped at it but somehow he survived. Bell continues to have problems picking Warne but this did not stop him padding up to a couple of deliveries. On each occasion the ball spun and bounced just past his off stump. Bell has developed either fine judgement or great fortune since the 2005 Ashes. The remainder of the series will tell.
Collingwood, however, looked at ease against the champion leg-spinner. Batsmen are advised to take a huge stride forward or move right back on to their stumps when facing good spinners, the theory being that it messes the bowler's length up. And this is just how Collingwood played Warne. When he came down the pitch he looked in total control and struck the ball cleanly, but he collected most of his runs by taking a big step back towards his stumps and punching the 37-year-old through the leg side for ones and twos.
Everything about Collingwood's innings was tight. The slow, low nature of the pitch suited his technique and he played within his limitations. On quicker, bouncier tracks batsmen can play away from their bodies but on surfaces like this it pays to watch the ball on to the face of the bat.
Bell and Collingwood completed resourceful fifties off consecutive deliveries in the final over before tea, and the hundred partnership was brought up immediately after the interval. Bell drove Lee through the covers for two boundaries but perished going for a third when he top-edged a pull straight back to the bowler.
With the day once again in the balance, Pietersen strode to the crease. He pulled his second ball viciously for four and then lifted Warne over long-off for six. Pietersen clubbed his tired mate for further boundaries, benefiting from the endeavour of Bell and Collingwood, who had worn down the Australian attack.
England won toss
England - First Innings
A J Strauss c Martyn b Clark 14
63min, 44 balls
A N Cook c Gilchrist b Clark 27
90min, 57 balls, 2 fours
I R Bell c and b Lee 60
189min, 148 balls, 6 fours
P D Collingwood not out 98
278min, 201 balls, 7 fours
K P Pietersen not out 60
115min, 95 balls, 5 fours, 1 six
Extras (lb1 nb6) 7
Total (for 3, 369 min, 90 overs) 266
Fall: 1-32 (Strauss), 2-45 (Cook), 3-158 (Bell).
To bat: *A Flintoff, ÝG O Jones, A F Giles, M J Hoggard, S J Harmison, J M Anderson.
Bowling: Lee 20-1-77-1 (nb6) (6-1-16-0; 4-0-20-0; 7-0-31-1; 3-0-10-0); McGrath 18-3-51-0 (8-1-20-0; 4-2-8-0; 3-0-13-0; 3-0-10-0); Clark 15-3-25-2 (8-0-15-2; 5-2-8-0; 2-1-2-0); Warne 27-6-85-0 (9-3-14-0; 6-1-18-0; 2-0-5-0; 10-2-48-0); Clarke 10-1-27-0 (4-1-11-0 6-0-16-0).
Progress: First day: 50: 105 min, 24.1 overs. Lunch: 58-2 (Bell 9, Collingwood 8) 28 overs. 100: 176 min, 42.4 overs. Tea: 144-2 (Bell 50, Collingwood 50) 59 overs. 150: 247 min, 60.3 overs. 200: 299 min, 71.2 overs. 250: 343 min, 84.4 overs. New ball taken after 85 overs at 254-3.
Bell's 50: 175 min, 140 balls, 4 fours. Collingwood's 50: 147 min, 113 balls, 4 fours. Pietersen's 50: 81 min, 69 balls, 4 fours, 1 six.
Australia: J L Langer, M L Hayden, *R T Ponting, D R Martyn, M E K Hussey, M J Clarke, ÝA C Gilchrist, S K Warne, B Lee, S R Clark, G D McGrath.
Umpires: S A Bucknor (WI) and R E Koertzen (SA). TV replay umpire: S J Davis. Match referee: J J Crowe (NZ).
First Day: How They Rated
ANDREW STRAUSS: Tried to be responsible but got out softly again. 3
ALASTAIR COOK: Looked set before a loose drive led to his dismissal. 4
IAN BELL: Tricky start but got stuck in. 7
PAUL COLLINGWOOD: Brilliant effort once again. 9
KEVIN PIETERSEN: Good start, needs to go on. 7
ANDREW FLINTOFF: Could be the most important toss he ever wins. 10
GLENN MCGRATH: Unhelpful pitch made him look innocuous. 5
BRETT LEE: The pressure was eased on England when he came on to bowl. 4
SHANE WARNE: Deserved more and wickets will come. 7
STUART CLARK: Why did he bowl only 15 overs? 7
Shot of the Day
* The straight boundaries at the Adelaide Oval are as long as any in the world but that did not stop Kevin Pietersen hacking Shane Warne over long-off for six. It was an audacious but beautifully executed shot.
Ball of the Day
* It was hard to believe that Shane Warne finished the day wicketless, but he did. He spun several past the outside edge but the best was bowled to Ian Bell. It pitched on leg stump, spun sharply and Adam Gilchrist took it outside off.
Moment of the Day
* For England, the toss was always going to be a huge moment and, for the first time in four Test matches, Andrew Flintoff called correctly. It took the heat off his bowlers and gave England's batsmen the chance to put the Aussies under pressure.
Debate of the Day
* Should England have played Monty Panesar? After watching Shane Warne spin the ball sharply on the first day the answer has to be YES. The pitch will offer even more spin as the match progresses and England have left out their best spinner.
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