Some people get a carriage clock as a retirement present. Paul Collingwood will get an Ashes victory.
Even the most patriotic of Australians, or the most media savvy English cricketer, would be hard pressed to deny that victory in this Test match, and indeed this series, will be England’s tomorrow.
As is fitting, on the day that Collingwood announced his retirement from Test cricket, he was remembered for the great in his career, his dedication to his sport, and his achievements over the last seven years, rather than for his recent low scores. For much of his contribution cannot be quantified.
Collingwood has always strived to perform as an individual. He has worked hard on his fitness, his technique, and the limited abilities he has, to be the best that he could be. But most importantly, he transferred that into the team, leading by example to those around him, and having a profound effect on his colleagues.
“Its always a sad moment hearing one of your teammates is retiring,” Matt Prior said at the end of play. “He’ll be sorely missed. But I think the part of the cricketer that you don’t see is the part away from the cricket ground. Everyone will know the stats and the important innings he’s played, the great catches he’s taken, the wickets he’s taken, that’s phenomenal.”
For those who never saw Bradman bat, his career figures told the story of his greatness. Future generations may hear of Paul Collingwood, the guy who captained England to the world T20, or Collingwood, one of England’s best fielders. But it would be a slight on Brigadier Block if they do not understand how integral he was to creation of this victorious team England team that he now leaves behind.
“It’s what a bloke like Colly brings to the dressing room,” Prior continued. “He’s definitely been one of the catalysts to this team being where it is now, why the team spirit is like it is, and how close this team is. Those are the things that are very important to this team. It’s what happens in that dressing room behind closed doors. Colly will be sorely missed form that point of view.”
It’s not only his teammates that see it, but his peers in the wider game.
I’m pretty sure he’s played a pretty significant part in that development of the England team and their rise to what they are doing now,” Australian opener Shane Watson said. “Obviously he’s done some great work around the team.”
England have outplayed Australia in the majority of this series. But it is not just their efforts over the last six weeks that has earned them this victory. England have been preparing for this series since the final wicket fell in the last Test match at the Oval last summer, but the new phase of England cricket in all formats has been built upon the foundations of Andy Flower and Andrew Strauss. Collingwood is Strauss’s most trusted confidant in the England team, and has no doubt been integral to the decisions and tactics employed by the men in control.
“I wouldn’t change a thing about the way my career has been.” Collingwood said. “The players I’ve played with in that England dressing room have been absolutely exceptional, and I can safely say that the environment that we have got in that dressing room now is a very special place and that’s why its hard to leave. But its definitely the right time and you’ve got to give the opportunity to the younger guys.”
Collingwood called this the “perfect moment” to bow out, and described victory here against the Aussies as the pinnacle of his career.
“I’ve played the last year just to get into this series I think,” Collingwood said. “I had a good series in South Africa which pretty much cemented my place for this series. This has been a special kind of series for me. 2005 at the Oval was special, but although I haven’t scored the runs out here I haven’t been able to take the smile off my face. This has been something that I have been waiting for a long time. Last time we were here four years ago I actually managed to score runs and we were beaten 5-0. I much prefer it this way round this time.
“In many ways it’s a sad moment but I honestly think it’s the right time, and in many ways it’s the perfect moment. This is what I have been playing the game of cricket for, to be in this position against Australia like this and it is going to be the perfect moment to bow out of test cricket. I am happy with the contributions I’ve made to England cricket team in the Test format and I think there are a lot of young players coming through. This team will progress without me and get better and better so I’m looking forward to tomorrow as a final farewell.”
There have been calls throughout this series for Collingwood’s retirement, and it was something that was already in his mind before the tour.
“It was always an option,” he said. “You don’t know until you go through the emotions and you are playing the game, but my form hasn’t helped. I am very realistic.
“I spoke to my wife in Melbourne about it and I pretty much made the decision about three days ago one hundred percent. I knew that was probably going to be my last innings. I was hoping it was going to be a fairytale story and I would go out there and crack a 100.”
It wasn’t to be, but Collingwood has never been one to put personal glory over team achievement.
“I think that’s one of the reasons why I’m moving on,” he said, of the teams’ ambitions to become number one in the world rankings. “This team can go as far as they want to . The skills that they have produced with the ball, getting 20 wickets on flat pitches over here. We are bowling as a unit like the old Australian team used to bowl. It’s very hard to score runs against us. Our batting has gone from strength to strength. The guys will take a hell of a lot of confidence into future series from the way that they’ve played out here.
“They are very eager to improve all the time. The work ethic that they have, that’s one of the things I’ll miss. But I’m very much looking forward to watching them in the future. They will be a very special side.”
It was a big day for Matt Prior, who completed his first Test century against Australia, and took four catches to take his tally in the series to 21, the second highest by an English wicket keeper in a Test series.
“It would be pretty tricky to beat today,” Prior said. “At the SCG, on an ashes Test, to get 100 then a few catches, and have them seven down. We’re in a pretty good position to win tomorrow, so today would have to be right up there (with the best day of my career) certainly.
“Obviously it was a great to win the Ashes in England. But to come over here knowing the history, knowing it’s been 24 years since it was last done, the amount of hard work and preparation that has gone into this tour all comes good today and tomorrow. It’s a fantastic feeling. The Barmy Army were again absolutely fantastic. To be there with your mates on the field with all that hard work, preparation, training and planning makes it all the sweeter.”
England only need three wickets for victory in the morning. Australia collapsed to 171-7, triggered by Shane Watson, who brought about his own demise, involved in the seventh run out of his career.
It was the fourth Australian run out of this series. Hughes pushed to mid-wicket for what should have been an easy single. Watson came back for the second, Hughes stuttering, then returning to his crease. Watson arrived at the non-strikers end with a look of horror on his face as he turned to see Prior remove the bails. It was a sorry sight for any Australian.
“It’s an horrendous situation to be involved in,” said Watson. “It’s something I have got to work on because it’s not good enough. The top of the order is hard enough as it is let alone with run outs. It can’t keep happening.”
England should have a 3-1 series victory wrapped up by lunch time tomorrow. It will be a special moment for the whole team, but particularly Collingwood, who admitted that it will be an emotional experience for him.
“I’m a softie really to be honest,” he said. “There were times tonight when I got goose bumps. I always said I wanted to bow out in England in front of the English fans. But that felt like home tonight with the atmosphere out there. It was special, all the lads standing in the slips; we all had goose bumps going up our arms. It’s an amazing atmosphere and it honestly feels like the perfect moment. Tomorrow hopefully we can finish them off pretty quick and it’s going to be the best way to bow out.
“It was always a dream of mine to play Test cricket. To me this is the ultimate form of the game. I’ve given it my all and that’s all you can do as a player. I am very proud to be able to say that.”