James Lawton: Collingwood's legacy is always to have given his all
ngland have the right to drop him now – but not to forget what he has come to mean
Monday 03 January 2011
Whatever else Paul Collingwood achieves in the next few days at the Sydney Cricket Ground he can congratulate himself on pulling off one of the trickier tasks set by the business of his life.
While his spectacularly gifted team-mate Kevin Pietersen has been rewriting the history of the team's march from the psychological bankruptcy of two years ago, the man from Durham has given an impressive lesson in dealing with the most unwelcome of facts.
He has acknowledged the fading of his particular light – at a time when each one of his Ashes team-mates has been underwriting his future in the international game – with uncommon grace.
You may say that Collingwood is an old pro and that his first obligation is an understanding of where he is in a relentlessly demanding business. But it is a truth not always adhered to by those who have enjoyed a long run in the spotlight. There is a tendency to make excuses, to filter the toughest reality through the prism of individual needs.
That Collingwood has eschewed such evasion was made official when he announced at the weekend: "No matter what happens from this point on, I can safely say that, after what I went through at the start of my playing career [ie extreme discouragement], if someone had offered me three Ashes wins, a Twenty20 World Cup win and 10 Test hundreds, I would have snatched their hands off."
At 34 Collingwood is accepting that he has probably run his course, and that Eoin Morgan is already measuring himself as his replacement. So what is left for him?
He has told us clearly and impressively enough. It is to reflect on the lesson he absorbed and profited from so hugely as a young professional and offer it as something still hugely important to England's future, even in these days of confidence in both the team's depth of talent and competitive attitude. What Collingwood still exemplifies is a quality that will always be fundamental to any kind of success at any level of sport.
It is a determination to produce every ounce of resolve that you can muster. It is a passion to reject any possibility that you will one day have to confide that you could have done more.
No one, nor even his tormentor, the sublimely gifted Shane Warne, can deny Collingwood his right to free himself from any such accountancy.
Sometimes Collingwood's competitiveness has spilt beyond the line – most notoriously with his demand of the wicket of Kiwi Grant Elliott after he had collided with Ryan Sidebottom – but that hardly made him a pariah of his age, and redemption has been, all in all, huge. Certainly, Warne's sneering over the granting of Collingwood's MBE after contributing just 17 runs to the Ashes win of 2005, has failed to stand the test of time.
Had the rest of the England team showed some of his resolution in the whitewash of 2006-07, the worst of the shame might have been averted. He scored a 96 in the first Test in Brisbane, then a double hundred in Adelaide. In 2009 he batted most of the last day in Cardiff, which made possible England's unlikely draw in the first Test.
He has a Test average of more than 40 – the break-even line of a substantial career – and even in the worst of his Ashes days he has made slip catches for the ages. His legacy, however, goes beyond numbers. England have the right to drop him now – but not to forget what he has come to mean.
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