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A Cricketer, Pure and Simple


Jake Howe | 7:31pm gmt 09 Jan 2011
A Cricketer, Pure and Simple
Job done.
At the climax of the Sydney Test, Paul Collingwood retired from Test cricket.

I think you'll find it's a little more complicated than that.

When well-spoken Sky Sports commentator David Gower asked his colleagues to sum uo Paul Collingwood in a word, the obvious answer came from the less than sharp Sir Beefy - "Gritty". Nasser Hussain, rather more careful in his summary, gave the correct answer. "There's not just one word".

Because it's all very easy to sum up Colly as a fighter, a grity nudger, a tough nugget, or some such. There is so much to the man that doesn't meet the eye. Andrew Strauss said in his interview that what Paul Collingwood brings to his team doesn't often make the screen. It's hard to imagine what people might think about him if they looked at his statistics, his list of achievements. "Oh, I see. He was a steady middle - order bat who bowled a bit, and a very good fielder. Fair enough."

Any England supporter, and anyone who watched the man's career could howl at the injustice of that statement. Paul Collingwood is simply a true cricketer. He has been so often exactly what the team needed. A stunning rear guard batting performance, a crucial partnership breaker or one of those phenomenal catches, those are the pivotal moments that win you a series.

He's come so far from the bits-and-pieces cricketer that Shane Warne mocked. Perhaps he's the only man alive who earned his MBE retroactively. From his first century in Nagpur, Collingwood crept his way to 59 when the eighth wicket fell, before a sudden shift in gears - with only Steve Harmison and Monty Panesar for company - brought him the three figures. Truly a textbook example of how he never plays an innings, he plays the match.

There could never be a better time for Collingwood to bow out, than to do so having had a personally ordinary series where his team won. He would take it that way around every time. Only Paul Collingwood could have a 40 as his best innings, but his 40 in Cape Town last year possibly is the greatest day this most unselfish of players ever had. Batting against a fully-firing, phenomenal bowling pair that would later conquer the world's best, he dragged England out of a losing position for five hours of excruciatingly tense Test cricket.

When you add that to his efforts in Cardiff and Centurion 2009, he didn't just save England's bacon. He would save it while it was surrounded by a pack of starving attack dogs, all of whom were seriously addicted to pork.

And there's still more he offers. His fielding so often proves the difference. A great man to have around the dressing room. Mentor to younger players and debutants. Simultaneously a professional yet enthusiastic character. Top golfer. The list goes on and on.

I have often tried and failed to explain Test cricket to the non-believers. I can never really capture the narrative, the skill, the tension and the gladiatorial competitiveness at its heart. A sceptic might ask what's special about a ball being knocked around with a stick for five days, and I'll have to shake my head, and resign that they're just missing the point.

Paul Collingwood was a cricketer, pure and simple. So don't look at his figures or his style or his lack thereof for any kind of explanation.

I think you'll find it's a little more complicated than that.

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garethb
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Gerard
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