Slow starter Collingwood a quick learner

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The Independent Online

Under previous regimes Paul Collingwood would now be contemplating a life on the county circuit worrying about what to do with his winters and wondering why the big times failed to roll. Instead, here he is with a key batting place in England's one-day side, a 25-year-old with distinct prospects for whom the big times are positively thundering.

When Collingwood was ushered into the team last summer, it was a surprise. Not only was he from Durham, who must have been thinking of changing their name to the Folded Up Beer Mats so often had they propped up tables, but he also had a career average of 26. When he then proceeded to make a top score of nine in four innings in the triangular tournament against Australia and Pakistan global stocks of "We told you sos" ran out overnight.

"I'd only had two months of really good cricket in my life," he said. "The five years before that had been pretty mediocre so of course it was a surprise. Seeing your name, getting the phone call, actually I couldn't believe it.

"Then I went through a major low. It was the biggest blow for me to get a highest score of nine. I hadn't been as confident as I should have been, I lost a lot of confidence with Durham as well." And that might have been that. But these England selectors are unlike England selectors of the past. They had seen something in Collingwood, a willingness, an athleticism allied to an ample range of strokes. They thought he could make a fifth or sixth bowler, too. So Collingwood stayed.

On the autumn trip to Zimbabwe he began to repay the faith with two fifties. So they stuck with him in India as well and last Tuesday he made a handsomely composed 71 not out to ensure that England reached a competitive and ultimately winning score in the second one-day international. It was the innings of a man who is here to stay, though he failed with the rest of England's top order in Madras on Friday.

He has to work tirelessly at his bowling. Nasser Hussain, England's captain, called his style "dobbers" the other day, Collingwood assured him that he was trying to bowl as fast as he can. His fielding, however, is exemplary.

"You come up against Australia and Pakistan which is doubly unfortunate for some," he said. "I blew it, but luckily I still had a bit of one-day form for Durham and got picked for Zimbabwe. It took me to the very last game of the season for my confidence to come back when I made a century and a 70 against Worcestershire.

"One thing that I took from the Australian experience was that I should try to take the positives from whatever the situation. When I went to Zimbabwe my goal was to play as confidently as I could and believe I belonged on that stage. That's exactly my intention in India and New Zealand, stay confident, work hard in the nets, which I always tend to do anyway. I've always had a good work ethic. When you've played under David Boon you can only go one way."

Long before he came under Boon's disciplined influence, Collingwood wanted to be a professional cricketer. He drove his teachers to distraction. To the regular question about whether he had thought what he wanted to be when he left school he invariably had the same reply. The ambition was made more outrageous because Durham were still a minor county at the time. "I didn't know where I was going to play but I just knew I was going to play first-class cricket. That was the only answer I could give. They said I'd have to choose a different career, nobody plays cricket in the area. Durham's change of status was perfect timing for me because I was just coming up to Under-13s, coming up through the ranks, and it was the right age to be."

At 20 Collingwood was in the county side and had one of the most remarkable debuts of all. He took a wicket with his first ball (David Capel) and scored 91 in his first innings. For a while the dressing room referred to him as God. It did not last. "I only played half a season because my form went downhill quite rapidly. I didn't know my game enough to get out of the trough. But perhaps it's the best way to learn.

"The first two years were quite depressing altogether because Durham were getting absolutely walloped. We were the whipping boys, but in a way it's better that it started out like that because you need your lows to get your highs. That's what has happened with England, experiencing a low period straight away, but I know what that low is."

Collingwood has spent winters in Australia, South Africa and New Zealand. Last winter he won the Ryder Medal in Melbourne for being the best grade cricketer of the season. The two previous winners were Carl Hooper and Abdul Qadir and Collingwood was the first pom.

Hussain said: "He had a difficult baptism because every time he batted the ball was zipping around and every time he bowled they bwere about 300 for 1, but we've given him the chance to see it's a bit easier than that and he's taken it."

Collingwood's objective now is the World Cup and these selectors, being different from previous selectors, might agree with him.