Reading through the Paul Collingwood Test career obituaries has been like enduring a patronise-athon, if there is such a thing (which there isn’t). His fielding has been universally lauded but his batting is routinely belittled.
The comments are good-natured and well-meant but they do a disservice to a guy whose attributes don’t kick you in the balls with their obviousness. Collingwood has long been branded ‘limited’ and ‘lacking in natural talent’ and these phrases get repeated so often they become accepted fact.
But really, how limited is Paul Collingwood? He can bat for four-and-a-half hours for 40 to help save a Test match, as he did at Newlands last year; yet he can hit England’s fastest-ever one-day fifty (24 balls, six sixes) against New Zealand. He can hit a Test hundred in Nagpur and he can hit one at Chester-le-Street. He can even hit a double hundred against McGrath, Warne, Lee and Clark in their home conditions shortly after an Australian newspaper had branded him ‘England’s worst ever No.4’.
How do I look?
The perception of a shortfall in talent is to a large extent based on the way he looks at the crease. He prefers the legside and we’re all conditioned to find off-side shots beautiful and leg-side shots workmanlike. But the true measure of talent is surely in how cleanly a batsman hits the ball and Paul Collingwood has unquestionably got a great eye and exceptional co-ordination. I don’t trust many English batsmen to play across the line, minimising their chances of making good contact with the ball – but I trust Paul Collingwood. I’ve seen him launch enough balls over long-on to know it’s not a risk for him to play such a shot.
“He made the most of limited ability”
This is the phrase that aggravates me more than any other. The implication is that Paul Collingwood is somehow less of a cricketer than others because he relies on making the most of his ability.
Every international cricketer ought to be duty-bound to make the most of his ability – that should be a given. Not making the most of your ability is a far greater flaw in my eyes than a crooked backlift or poor footwork.
If you were trying to scientifically measure a batsman’s worth, you could do so via an equation that would take into account all attributes and weaknesses (the value would be measured in runs). A batsman is the sum of many, many parts. A flawless cover drive is an attribute, yes, but a cool head under pressure is a bigger one.
Adaptability is an attribute, the ability to pace an innings is an attribute. A Test batsman needs to understand and combat the opposition’s bowling plans and he needs to be able to work the ball into gaps to keep the scoreboard moving. He needs to bounce back from failure and he needs to be able to shrug off a poor shot or a narrow escape. These are all attributes that Paul Collingwood has in abundance.
Collingwood is not the greatest batsman to have ever played the game, but to rate a batsman who hit 10 Test centuries and played some of the finest rearguard innings of recent times an overachiever is to sacrifice an effective and valuable international cricketer on the altar of some textbook ideal who would probably unwhiten his whites if he came into bat at 40 for 4 in a Test match.
If Paul Collingwood’s limited, I’ll lack what he’s lacking.
Read more on the Ashes:
The Australia press after day four: columns of conviction
Alan Tyers on the Australian TV shows that never made it on air
Edward Craig misses Paul Collingwood already
Lawrence Booth, new editor of Wisden, writes on Alastair Cook
Patrick Eagar’s genius photo gallery from the entire series
The series in TWC‘s stunning photo Gallery
Session-by-session from the final Test
Jrod explains why Australia need to lose the series
Alan Tyers predicts 2011
Lawrence Booth says Ponting is still great