As Paul Collingwood cast a glowing eye over the Riverside, a warm smile lit up his face and the Durham all-rounder beamed with pride.

"The club only started playing first-class cricket ten years ago and look at how well we've done," he said.

"Who'd have thought that we'd come so far in such a short space of time?"

The same could be said of Collingwood, an international novice just 12 months ago but now a key component of England's one-day machine.

Similarly, England have themselves made giants strides since last summer's dismal limited-overs efforts against Australia and Pakistan.

Collingwood was suffering from cricketing shell shock as his country were mauled by sides that were too innovative, too smart and just too talented for them.

But he no longer resembles a startled rabbit, trapped in the headlights of the world's premier bowlers.

Since the dark days of July 2001, the 26-year-old from Shotley Bridge has grown in stature and confidence as the results and accolades have come his way.

Collingwood has won international man-of-the-match awards on three continents - in Zimbabwe, India and New Zealand - and he is a near-certainty to play in next year's World Cup in South Africa.

It means that North-East sports fans must prepare themselves for a novelty today - a local lad representing his country and doing himself proud.

After the regional shambles of the World Cup, when Kieron Dyer was hopeless and Gareth Southgate's presence pointless, Collingwood's rise to prominence is a timely boost to the area's sporting reputation.

So, too, will be the 17,000 full house that will back England at Chester-le-Street today and present further evidence of the county's strong case to be granted extra international recognition.

England will meet Zimbabwe at the Riverside next May or June in ambitious Durham's first taste of Test match action. But they are hungry for more, and today represents the perfect opportunity to showcase their credentials.

Collingwood said: "When Durham first said they wanted Test matches here, I don't think even they would have expected to get them so soon.

"It's a huge thing for the area. We've got great support for cricket up here and North-East people love their sport.

"We've surprised a lot of people by how quickly we've done this. We've got great facilities - the nets are fantastic and the wickets are brilliant. As long as it keeps improving, it will be a great venue for the future.

"It's going to be a massive day for me. I'll have plenty of family and friends here, and they'll probably give me a bit of barracking!

"Lord's is a fantastic venue and to play in front of a full house there was a fantastic experience. But playing for England at Durham will be very special.

"The crowd will make plenty of noise and hopefully they'll cheer us on to another good win."

As an avid Sunderland fan, Collingwood seemed more concerned ahead of yesterday's news conference with his club's continuing pursuit of Robbie Keane.

Learning that Middlesbrough had finally signed Massimo Maccarone and were on the verge of recapturing Juninho further deepened Collingwood's mood of footballing depression.

But the hard-hitting batsman and medium-pace bowler became more loquacious when probed about his standing as an England one-day regular.

He played a crucial role in steering Nasser Hussain's men to an unlikely victory over Sri Lanka on Tuesday which took England to the verge of a NatWest Series final place.

England stood by Collingwood as he endured a torrid international baptism last year, and he has repaid their faith in him with sterling displays with bat and ball.

He said: "It was hard for me to face Australia and Pakistan on my debut last year. They're two very good one-day sides and it was very difficult for me to go into the side when we were losing.

"But as a team we've improved since last summer, and the trips to Zimbabwe, India and New Zealand gave me a lot of confidence.

"So did my innings against Sri Lanka on Tuesday. There's a lot of pressure on you when you come in down the order, and to knock off the runs in such difficult circumstances was great.

"A lot can happen between now and the World Cup in eight months' time, so I wouldn't say I'm definitely going to South Africa.

"I've got to keep on hoping that I get picked for the next series. I've got quite a bit of improvement to do with my bowling in particular.

"I've got massive ambitions to play Test cricket. Playing one-day cricket for England is great and I've enjoyed every minute.

"But it would be a great story if I could get into the Test team for the game at Chester-le-Street next summer."

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