Collingwood has namesake's admirable qualities

Paul Collingwood launched his benefit year earlier this week and, as Chief Sports Writer Scott Wilson discovered, his famous North-East surname could hardly be more apt.

WHEN Paul Collingwood launched his benefit year on Thursday, it was fitting that he did so in the street that bears his name.

Collingwood Street in Newcastle commemorates Lord Cuthbert Collingwood, a North-Eastern admiral who was lauded for his efforts in the Battle of Trafalgar.

Collingwood, the admiral, was renowned as a dogged and spirited fighter, repeatedly upsetting the odds to achieve notable feats in his country's name.

After the winter he has just had in Australia, Collingwood, the cricketer, can now claim exactly the same.

If ever a sportsman epitomised the qualities of passion, valour and determination that have historically been etched in the English psyche, it is surely the all-rounder who is about to celebrate a decade of service at the top of his game.

"If you wanted to manufacture a cricketer with all the character traits I like to see in an England player, you would be hard pushed to come up with a better prototype than Colly," said England coach Duncan Fletcher. Given his usual reticence, such effusion is high praise indeed.

"Colly has had to work extremely hard to secure a regular place in the England team. He did not make an immediate impact when we first picked him for the NatWest Series against Australia and Pakistan in 2001.

"But, right from the start, I was convinced that he not only had talent, but the mental strength you need to be successful at this level and, sure enough, the following winter, in India and New Zealand, he performed really well for us in two tough one-day series.

"What stood out above everything else was his passion for England cricket and his sheer desire to do well and bring the best not only out of himself, but those around him too. I cannot praise him highly enough as a team man."

Passion, desire, mental strength. After Collingwood became only the second English batsman to score a double-century in Australia last year, you might have thought that the adjectives lavished on him would finally have become more flamboyant.

Not so. Ten years on from his Durham debut against Northamptonshire and the 30-year-old is still being congratulated for the same battling qualities that saw him force his way into Shotley Bridge's Under-13s team at the age of just nine.

"I'm a fighter and if I want something badly enough, I'll make sure I give myself the best opportunity to get it," said Collingwood. "If you set your sights high and want to get somewhere, you can sometimes do amazing things, things that people don't believe you can do.

"Maybe it's part of my character that I fight back better than when I'm at the top. I certainly love a fight and I love to prove people wrong.

"That's what you have to do in this business, because there are a lot of people out there who doubt you. In the end, it's up to you to prove them wrong with your performances. If you're doing well in the middle, it's impossible for people to shoot you down."

Or at least it should be. For all that Collingwood has achieved exceptional things in a career that has included 112 one-day international appearances and 20 Test caps, the praise for his talents has continued to be grudging.

Every answer has provoked another question, every achievement created another challenge to be overcome.

As a bowler who batted a bit, he was forced to confound the critics just to get a game for his county side. Not a natural enough technician they cried, and still continue to in some of the more staid cricketing circles.

By June 2001, Collingwood had made his one-day international debut for his country. Later that winter he was making three half-centuries in the space of four innings against Zimbabwe and India, yet still the critics sniped.

Not good enough for Test cricket was the common refrain and, significantly, it was one that stuck. It would be another two years before Collingwood made his Test debut and four before he made his third Test appearance in 2005's thrilling final Ashes Test at The Oval.

"There were times when I thought I might not get a chance in Test cricket," he admitted. "But I always knew it was just a case of getting an opportunity.

"People always pigeon-holed me as a one-day player, but I hadn't played a lot of Test cricket so there wasn't much I could do about it.

"People will always claim you're not really a Test player if they're not seeing you play Test cricket. Until I got an opportunity to do well at Test cricket, I was never going to get rid of that tag.

"There were times when I seemed to get close to the Test team, but other players would come along and jump in before me.

"I always seemed to be the next person on the ladder, but someone would nip in ahead of me and do well, so I had to wait another year or so.

"But that's part and parcel of sport. There's no point giving up or getting disheartened by it, the key thing is to learn all the time. As long as you're developing your game, you're in a position to go forward when an opportunity comes along."

And "go forward" is exactly what Collingwood has done. Firmly established at the heart of England's Test team thanks to his Adelaide double ton, the fervent Sunderland fan now finds himself feted as the key to England's World Cup fortunes following two match-winning knocks in the final of the Commonwealth Bank Series.

Seeking to justify praise rather than attempting to confound expectations is a new experience for the all-rounder, but unaccustomed to his newly exalted role, he insists it will be business as usual in the Caribbean.

"It will be amazing how quickly perceptions will change," he explained. "That's what you have to remember. When Kevin Pietersen comes back in and Freddy (Andrew Flintoff) hits a few quick runs, I'll quickly be seen as the man in between them again.

"I'll go back to my normal role of the guy that sweeps the shop floor. That is my job in this side. I know that."

Passionate and determined, yet honest and humble. Lord Cuthbert would surely have been proud to share the Collingwood name.

Collingwood will donate a "sizeable proportion" of the proceeds of his benefit year to Marie Curie Cancer Care and the Chance To Shine campaign, a charity that promotes cricket both in this country and abroad.

The first event will be a dinner at the Gateshead Hilton Hotel on February 22, and anyone wanting further information should contact Jane Baillie on 0870 9100 400 or visit the website www.paulcollingwoodbenefit.com

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