Player of the Month – February

As England’s nightmarish and embarrassing tour of Australia drew to a close at the beginning of February, nobody in their right minds could have predicted that the team would leave not only with their heads held high, but as victors and a genuine threat at the World Cup. Three merciless beatings of Australia and an excellent triumph over the Black Caps meant that England had risen from a distant third in the Commonwealth Bank Tri-Series to the eventual winners. And if there was any one player that England owed this remarkable turnaround to, it would have to be the all round excellence of Paul Collingwood.

Since his double century at Adelaide, Collingwood’s tour had been loaded with failure and personal humiliation. After a promising start to the one-dayers, he increasingly struggled to pick up singles and take advantage of relatively good Australian batting conditions. By the time England’s must-win clash with New Zealand arrived, he had made just 83 runs in 6 matches, and many saw him as one of several players in the English outfit who simply did not want to be there.

But in the first of three remarkable individual efforts, Collingwood lifted his struggling English side to victory. In a tense affair at Brisbane, coming into bat 52 for 3, another drubbing loomed as Shane Bond threatened to skittle the battle-weary Englishmen on a batsmen-friendly track. What followed from Collingwood was a marvellous effort given the time and circumstances. With the team’s run-rate barely four per over, Collingwood returned to form in spectacular fashion, taking advantage while the field was up and then picking up singles with ease. Once he was settled, the New Zealanders never looked like getting him out, and he cruised to a marvellous century, helping England construct a defendable total of 270.

However, later that evening, the time would come for Collingwood to show his value as a one day allrounder. After the English openers had all but gift-wrapped New Zealand the game with a series of wides, no balls and juicy half volleys, Collingwood was called to the bowling crease by his near-frantic captain, Andrew Flintoff, to try and restore some sanity to proceedings. Collingwood did precisely that. His ten overs were marked by unerring accuracy and canny changes of pace that only heaped more and more pressure on a New Zealand side that had no answers. As the run rate started to escalate at a dramatic rate, Collingwood picked up the crucial wickets of Scott Styris and Daniel Vettori to help seal victory.

With a spot in the finals secured, Collingwood then went on to play an even more crucial role in England’s victory in the finals. In the first match at Melbourne, with the Australians seemingly cruising to a total in excess of 300, Paul Collingwood again came to England’s rescue. However, this time it was not with the bat or the ball, but in the field. Collingwood has long been respected as one of the world’s finest fielders, but as his form with the bat dipped as the tour went on, so seemingly did his confidence in the field. However, at the climax of Australia’s cricketing summer, Collingwood completed his remarkable turnaround by taking a stunning catch at short mid wicket, and then running out two Australian batsmen, including the dangerous Michael Clarke, with direct hits.

Australia stumbled and eventually fell to 250 all out on a flat track. But all that would have been for nothing were it not for Collingwood’s continued heroics with the bat. Brett Lee and Stuart Clarke scythed through the English top order, removing 3 quick wickets and seemingly assuring Australia’s continued domination. However, Collingwood again arrived to bail out his side with an innings of extreme authority, calm and concentration. He provided no chances, and was not distracted by the fall of Ian Bell and Andrew Flintoff as he struck his second consecutive hundred and took England home with more than an over to spare.

Yet England’s turnaround was still not complete, with potentially two final matches remaining. Collingwood’s determination was to ensure that only one game would be played, and unsurprisingly, he again led from the front. After a rain-interrupted start was followed by a procession of early English wickets, it was unsurprisingly Collingwood who was again called upon to play the chief architect in England’s innings. Collingwood managed to guide England from 4 for 112 to 231, before he was finally dismissed for 70. But while he was unable to bring up a third successive hundred, he had still contributed more than enough to see off a limp Australian run chase, and having claimed two more wickets, he left the series as the player of the finals.

Collingwood has been instrumental in England’s astonishing reversal in fortunes, and he stands as a key figure when it comes to England’s World Cup hopes. While many would go for Kevin Pietersen’s lusty hitting or Andrew Flintoff’s larger-than-life heroics, in my view Collingwood is England’s most valuable one day player. The complete cricketer, over the last month he has proven he can win games for England from anywhere on the park. His team will be hoping he can keep it up as the squad departs for the Caribbean to begin the pursuit of one day cricket’s Holy Grail.

Cricket Web February Player of the Month
Paul Collingwood

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