James Lawton: Collingwood's ceaseless application and fighting spirit breathe life into England

Collingwood has been an example of what can be done if you believe in yourself
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"Look, mate," said one rather bemused Australian, "there are only so many times you can dig up the bodies of Pom cricketers and trample all over them." It wasn't exactly grace under the rare pressure of defeat because, if his premise had a certain weight, it was surely underpinned by the fact that one of the English bodies belonged to Paul Collingwood.

From the first Test slaughter at Brisbane in what now seems like another lifetime to yesterday's extraordinary victory by England in the first of the three possible one-day final games, Collingwood has been a credit to both his Durham blood and his trade.

Scoffed at by Geoff Boycott, whose at least sneaking admiration you might have thought he would have claimed with his ceaseless application and fighting spirit, Collingwood formed with the infinitely more talented Kevin Pietersen the only serious batting resistance to the rampant march of Ricky Ponting's Australian team.

Ridiculed by Shane Warne just a few weeks ago for the MBE which came after just 17 runs in the fifth Test of England's Ashes glory of 2005, Collingwood has now knocked two straight centuries in giving his team an outside chance - for such it still is - of leaving Australia with a modicum of, hopefully, not overstated pride.

In all of this Collingwood has been rather more than a mere point of combativeness and optimism in a campaign which until the last few weeks has been so wretched it almost justified the despairing headline, "For God's sake, come home". He has been an example of what can be done under the most difficult circumstances if you believe in yourself enough, after first assembling the body of hard work which invariably has to accompany the highest achievements of those not born with the greatest of natural gifts.

Collingwood made this point supremely yesterday less than a week after Jonny Wilkinson's seminar in self-help and motivation at Twickenham had so deeply impressed an otherwise disenchanted sports nation - and just a few hours after Wilkinson had concluded a practice kicking session taken in his own free time and with the costs of coach Dave Aldred being met by himself.

Wilkinson and Collingwood were, of course, making their points, however unconsciously, after another shambolic performance from England's multimillionaire footballers.

Not the least of Collingwood's most recent achievements was to kill stone dead the suspicions of those of us badminded enough to be hatching a conspiracy theory.

How could it be that a team so stripped of confidence, even the bare essentials of competitiveness, could rise up and start beating a team who had become so dominant that it seemed they could induce a flinch by doing no more than deliver a harsh look? How could Mr Cricket, Mike Hussey, no longer proceed to 50 runs as though it was a task no more demanding than a stroll on the banks of the Swan River? How could Australia throw away their wickets so recklessly yesterday after coasting to 170 for 1 and making English chances no better than a 19-1 shot by early morning? How was it that a few days ago New Zealand, in a similarly strong position, also started to bat as though in a self-induced coma? The sinister thinking was just about automatic. An Australia-New Zealand final, compared to the lip-smacking prospect of a final dismemberment of the Poms, had no kind of lustre and if the Aussies, as seemed so likely, had coasted home to the victory yesterday the odds would heavily have favoured a formal mopping up by them in Sydney and a big revenue loss in Adelaide for the scheduled denouement.

But then you had to look at the consternation on Ponting's face when Collingwood ended his innings of 70 with a superb catch - or when the man from Durham scored two brilliant run-outs before making a century which Andrew Flintoff said was the best he had ever seen in one-day cricket.

There is no doubt that the play in Australia has been dragged out to a monstrous degree. You had only to see the empty spaces in the Melbourne Cricket Ground to grasp that. Shakespeare couldn't hold a committed audience for so long. Yet in all the encroaching ennui, there has been one enduringly brave prospect. So long after the Ashes dust has settled, and his fellow North-easterner Steve Harmison flown home with the stirring ambition to fill in his time and earn his centrally contracted money however he was directed by Lord's, Collingwood has fought on.

He floundered in his misguided sledging battle with Warne - and he lost his early touch in the Ashes battle, when he scored more than 300 runs in the first two Tests in the face of Australia's relentlessly aggressive attack. But he never forgot where he was and what he was trying to achieve. He worked and he sweated and in the last few days it has all come back, all that determination to hang on to the faith of those who braved the sneers of Boycott - and all that pride in himself.

The expectation here is that Australia will indeed re-exert themselves and eventually triumph in Adelaide. But there will, surely, be no more talk of digging up dead bodies. For that, at the very least of it, all of English cricket is indebted to Paul Collingwood.

Open-door policy at Croke Park adds new dimension for Irishmen

On a weekend of rugby filled with thrilling possibilities there is another dimension. It is of seeing a "foreign" game penetrate, officially, the closed walls of Croke Park, a place which represented a certain Irish notion that the games of the nation, Gaelic football and hurling, had to be protected from the contamination of foreign sport.

This philosophy was all but knocked into the Irish Sea when England's Jack Charlton turned Ireland's football team into a force able to compete properly at the highest level, a fact which was wryly noted when the head of government, Charles Haughey, scooted over to Rome to celebrate, along with most of the rest of his people, the remarkable progress to the later stages of the 1990 World Cup.

Generations of fine Irish footballers were underwhelmed, some of them remembering the days when Irish politicians were terrified of making any public contact with the game - and they were whipped around the backs of their legs by Christian Brothers scolding them as "soccer-playing corner boys". Still, the old prejudice faded down the years and I know of one great old Irishman who would have been delighted by this weekend's developments.

He was Monsignor Michael Condon, who as a boy played for Tipperary and one afternoon in his Californian parish reflected that, when he was buried, he wanted to be accompanied by his hurley and the colours of "Tipp". He would have welcomed the opening up of Croke Park, if only for a little while, because he was a man of conspicuous open-mindedness. As a young priest he wrote a letter of "human sympathy" to the English landlord who lost his sons in the First World War. Before that the landlord used to pursue Condon and his brothers on horseback and with a whip when he suspected they had made free with one of his pheasants.

There was another reason why in later life he took a kindly view of the English game of football. It was that one his nephews, Niall Quinn, made quite a name for himself.

For most of the rest of us there can be just one huge regret when France arrive at the hallowed ground tomorrow afternoon. It is that their opponents will not include the brilliant Brian O'Driscoll, a sporting son to make, surely, the heart of any Irishman proud.

Confucius and a China crisis

The Queen's Park Rangers chairman, Gianni Paladini (pictured), is to be applauded - and also wished good luck - when he says he will get to the heart of an affray with the Chinese Olympic team which might have been choreographed by the late Bruce Lee.

Maybe he could read up a little Confucius before sifting some of the evidence, including that of an "insider" at his club. "The referee said we weren't to blame for anything," the insider declared. "Our players were only defending themselves."

Another witness said that Zheng Tao, one of the alleged aggressors, was kicked in the face, and had his jaw broken in three places, when he was lying on the ground.

It is no laughing matter, but Confucius was alleged to have said that he who walks on mountainside is not on the level. This, Paladini should be warned, may also apply to the flatlands of Shepherd's Bush.