Andrew Strauss says in his recently published diary, Winning the Ashes Down Under, that Paul Collingwood had “over-achieved” as a cricketer and that “we would only recognise him for what he did when he’s gone”.
That recognition has come at Cardiff, and especially on the second day of the opening Test between England and Sri Lanka. The opportunism and energy in the field was missing, never mind the stunning athleticism that brought off two outstanding slip catches in the Ashes series, as Sri Lanka themselves overachieved in making 400 all out.
It was Collingwood’s versatility in the field, as well as his boyish enthusiasm, that really made him so essential. To begin with he was a brilliant catcher – and stopper – in that awkward gap between second slip and gully, a position
that Alastair Cook has now inherited.
Cook is certainly a decent fielder – he was fielding in the slips on his Test debut – and has taken some blinding catches. But he hasn’t quite got Collingwood’s instinctive sense of anticipation when a chance comes along.
There were a number of opportunities on the second morning as England’s bowlers found some swing and a more consistent length than on the first day, but only one – the edge from Mahela Jayawardene’s bat pouched by Andrew Strauss – was taken.
Another flew to Cook’s outstretched right hand. He got his fingertips to the ball but could not hold on. It was a difficult chance – more quarter than half – but Collingwood’s unique agility and inspirational qualities could have allowed him to pull it off.
Another opportunity, from a left-handed slice from Thisara Perera that Cook got two hands to at wide third slip, Collingwood would likely have gobbled up.
When England’s bowlers went more on the defensive during the Ashes, Collingwood found himself at short extra cover, in the batsman’s face, looking for run outs and cajoling the bowlers.
It was from such a position that Kevin Pieteren missed a chance to break the sixth wicket stand between Prasanna Jayawardene and Farveez Maharoof with an underarm throw that, if it had been a shot on goal, would have ended up near the corner flag.
Yet perhaps Collingwood’s most prominent role was at first slip to Graeme Swann. The catch he took low to his left to get rid of Ricky Ponting in Adelaide last winter was not his most spectacular but perhaps the most important, keeping the Australian captain down and out of runs.
But Collingwood’s retirement and Anderson’s absence from the field with a back strain pressed Strauss into service at slip to Swann, and a sharp chance to him off Jayawardene went begging.
The most glaring evidence of Collingwood’s absence, however, was the lack of buzz in the outfield. The true characteristic of England’s out-cricket in the winter was the the sight of several fielders running from the boundary to pat a colleague on the backside after a fine stop.
Collingwood was at the heart of that and it definitely left the opposition feeling under siege. There has been no sign of that here in Cardiff. ‘The dynamo of England’s fielding’ will be Collingwood’s epitaph.