If there are two qualities that have defined Paul Collingwood as a cricketer, they are courage and self-belief when pressure is at its most intense and the innings he played here yesterday encapsulated both. Two weeks after suffering the lowest moment of his Test career when he was dropped, in wretched form, from the side picked at Headingley, he responded with a performance he believes he will never forget.
Grimly determined from the first ball he faced, even with his career on the line, that he would play with the natural aggression he feels is his strongest suit, Collingwood ended the day unbeaten on 101, having gone to three figures with the boldest of dance-down-the-pitch sixes, and had put England back in with a chance of keeping this series alive. That it came after he had scored only 43 Test runs all summer, in six visits to the crease, made it all the more memorable.
"Of course you feel under a lot of pressure," he said. "Not so much pressure from the outside but from feeling you are letting the team down if you don't contribute and that's how it has felt for the last few months.
"But today was very special and a day that I will never forget because it has been tough," he added.
For all the personal gravity of the situation, however, Collingwood maintained unwavering concentration, never straying from his plan to attack the South African bowling, even with the memories of two agonising if glorious failures – in Lahore in 2005 four runs short of his maiden Test hundred, when he was caught off a top-edge as he tried to hook Shoaib Akhtar, and in Brisbane a year later when he was stumped, again on 96, giving the charge to Shane Warne – threatening to intrude on his focus.
"Yes, Brisbane did flash through my mind," he said. "But I've always tried to play that way, always liked to get it out of the way if I can get to three figures with one blow. I've been out that way but I thought 'Just believe in yourself' and fortunately it came out of the middle."
If his celebrations were muted – there was scarcely a smile, let alone any of the exhibitionism in which his team-mate Kevin Pietersen might have indulged had he not been out on 94 – he said it was because he did not want to drop his guard.
"I wanted to keep in the same rhythm and I did not want the celebration to upset that," he said. "You often see people get out, just after a hundred, because they think they have done their job. There is still a massive job to do tomorrow if we are to get to around 300 in front and give ourselves a good chance. I did not want to run around like a looney tune but there was a lot of satisfaction there."
He applauded his team-mates for supporting him through his difficult times and made particular mention of Michael Vaughan, who put aside his own worries, both as captain and batsman, to deliver just the right words as he left he dressing room.
"Vaughany said to me 'Don't be reckless but be aggressive'. He said that's how I play my best cricket and that was very important in allowing me to have the freedom to take the bowlers on from ball one."Reuse content