Home-grown star Collingwood is part of England furniture

First published in Sport

AT the start of this year's NatWest Series, the side cobbled together by Duncan Fletcher had played a total of 401 one-day internationals between them. Paul Collingwood had been involved in 92 of those, so it doesn't take a genius to work out that on Saturday it will be No 95.

The vast number of appearances he has made for his country at this level highlights how highly he is valued to the squad and, with a World Cup just around the corner, Collingwood is destined to be one of England's main men in the Caribbean.

Arguably he is the best fielder in the country. His stunning and award-winning catch to remove Matthew Hayden in an ODI with Australia almost a year ago to the day illustrated this ability.

But this isn't the first superb catch he has pulled off during his career - 12 months earlier he claimed the same award when he leapt to see off West Indian Ramnaresh Sarwan - nor will it be the last.

But as well as building a reputation for being one the best around in the field, he has also proven himself to be an accomplished batsman and useful medium-paced bowler.

That was evident when Bangladesh arrived in this country last summer. Granted they are hardly cricket's heavyweights but they were showing signs of improvement when Collingwood surpassed Sir Viv Richards' record for the best-ever all-round performance in an ODI.

Shotley Bridge's finest became the first player to score a century (112) and take six wickets (6-31) in the 168 run victory at Trent Bridge.

The best previously set by Richards was some 19 years ago when he took 5-41 against New Zealand after hitting 119 with the bat.

"Maybe I could do it again but it was just one of those days when everything came together for me," recalled Collingwood, who has not looked back since.

At Lord's last Saturday he suffered the ignominy of being bowled lbw for a duck by Dilhara Fernando but the Durham man successfully restricted the Sri Lankans to a score of 257 with his bowling.

Had Collingwood, with figures of 2-29 from ten overs, not reprised his canny Twenty20 performance from a few days earlier then the tourists would have conjured up nearer to 300.

Even though he is still very much regarded as a specialist for the one-day game, Collingwood has become more of an established figure on the Test circuit.

Admittedly that has been the result of Michael Vaughan's knee injury over the winter but, nevertheless, the 30-year-old has now claimed 11 Test appearances.

The sudden increase in Test dates for Collingwood has emerged from his late role in the Ashes last year. That epitomised how he was valued at this level, regarded no more than a fill-in player.

In fact it was only last summer when Australia arrived at Riverside for a NatWest Series one-day international that he was referred to as a player who would struggle to add to his two Test caps.

Eight Tests later and he has an altogether different reputation. In Lahore over the winter he stuck 96 and 80 before hitting a majestic maiden century at Nagpur.

Both of those opportunities to shine only materialised as England were in the midst of an injury crisis. Had captain Vaughan and Marcus Trescothick been available he wouldn't have played. If there was a Test this weekend the situation would be entirely different.

In fairness to Collingwood it would appear he just needed a chance to shine, and he showed from an early age a determination to succeed in the game he loves.

His parents, David and Janet, are dedicated cricket fans and have previously told how their son's triumphs at the wicket have all been scrapbooked for him to look back on in the future.

It dates all the way back to when he was nine and selected for Shotley Bridge Cricket Club under-13s.

By the time he was 13 he was playing at under-18 level.

From that moment, after a successful trial at Worcester to play for the North of England Schools, he has never looked back. At 15 he played first team cricket, at 17 he was in the second team for his county and, two years later he signed a contract to play first team cricket.

He was swift to make an impression on the first class game as well. He took the wicket of former England all-rounder David Capel against Northamptonshire in 1996 with his first ball.

It took him some six years to make his mark in such a way that he was recognised with a call-up to the England squad for one-day internationals with Pakistan and Australia. His progress since has been to the point.

With an ODI international average of 32.22 there should be no speculation surrounding his position for the World Cup which starts in March next year.

On Saturday, against one of the favourites and former holders, Collingwood will have another chance to show the county who unearthed his talent just how far he has come.

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