Team player gains true reward for three years' loyal service

'This innings should yield something like a Companion of Honour'

When the gongs were handed out for winning the Ashes those eyebrows that were not merely raised at the inclusion of Paul Collingwood's name on the list went through the roof. His contribution to the monumental triumph had been one match, 17 runs, no wickets and one catch.

There were those who suggested, in the parlance of his native North-east, that the MBE stood for "Me Buddies' Efforts". Yesterday, in stifling heat, with England right up against it, Collingwood played the sort of innings which at current exchange rates, and without a penny's contribution to any political party, should yield something in the region of a Companion of Honour.

The measure of the esteem in which Collingwood is held by team-mates was evident when he reached his maiden Test century. It came from a slightly miscued chip for three towards long on and yielded an ovation which perhaps contained jubilation and relief in equal measure. They probably also remembered that his 10 off 54 balls on the last afternoon at the Oval was worth gold.

Collingwood is playing only his sixth Test match but he had waited a long time for that moment. He first played for England in a one-day international in 2001, has since played 84 more of those, and has been in or on the fringes of the Test squad for three years.

In the final Test in Pakistan last December he made a breakthrough of sorts with 96 and 80, but had the other batsmen picked for the tour remained standing he would have been out for this match. A back spasm last week briefly threatened his continued involvement.

The established players invariably speak of his significant input and sensible approach. Which is all jolly nice but does not equate to Test runs.

"I'm always going to be pigeon-holed as a one-day player because I've played 80-odd one-day matches and only six Tests," he said. "As long as I can apply myself and keep batting like that hopefully I can change people's minds."

It was an immensely gritty innings, tailored perfectly to the place and the circumstances. Collingwood could not have wished for better partners, though that would not necessarily have been your estimation had you been told before that their names were Matthew Hoggard, Stephen Harmison and Monty Panesar. Without them, Collingwood would not - could not - have made a hundred.

Panesar's role was especially spellbinding since he has the sort of career batting average that would be acceptable only if it was a golf handicap (around eight), is in his maiden Test, and arrived at the crease with Collingwood on only 79.

"I wasn't too sure how Monty was going to play," said Collingwood. "I thought I had better have a plan, try to farm the strike, but the balls he did face he did fantastically well and he didn't seem too nervous."

Collingwood had scraped and nudged his way, with rare, well-timed breakouts, to 93 when he seemed to decree that enough was enough. He shimmied down the pitch and saw the ball come off the sweet part of the bat and go over long off for six. That took him to 99. Did he think he wanted it done then?

"Yeah, pretty much," he said. "I was always going to come down the wicket to the next ball, and as soon as I hit it I knew."

He was there, the first Durham player to score a hundred in Test cricket. The ball cleared Sachin Tendulkar, one of the legends of the game, but in that moment nobody was more significant than Paul Collingwood MBE.

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