Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 10 July 2014

The Ashes: England give Collingwood the perfect send off

There could have been no more fitting finale for Paul Collingwood.

On the outfield at one of the greatest grounds in the world with a series victory in Australia beckoning, the boy from Shotley Bridge told his team mates he was calling it day.

He had come a long way, longer than he dared hope, longer than anybody else can have expected.

To have played 68 Test matches was perhaps 68 more than was predicted for him once, to be announcing his retirement from Test cricket with England at the point of their greatest achievement in a generation and more was a special kind of fulfilment.

And what a historic day Collingwood's little speech in the team huddle preceded.

Before it was done, England had recorded their highest innings in a Test match in Australia — 644 all out — and had all but secured the series victory that their endeavours in the past ten weeks have warranted.

The tourists came close to ending it there and then.

Australia were 213 for seven, still 151 runs adrift and in other respects almost as far behind England as the distance Collingwood's career had come from his north Durham village.

He must have been pinching himself, as the team he has represented so valiantly continued onward to an exceptional triumph.

It has been an unexceptional series for Collingwood — 83 runs in six innings. But he has bowled vigorously when required and taken some stunning catches.

As always, everything he has done has been selfless.

That is what the team will miss most about him but maybe they do not need him as much as they did once.

After Brisbane there has been no backs to the wall stuff this winter and Collingwood was so good at it that he must have been born with his back to the wall scything a last ditch sword — Shotley Bridge used to be famous for swords — at the enemy.

To his credit he knew he knew he ought to go. All six of the other members of the top seven have made hundreds in this series and Collingwood had not made that many in total.

The sixth, joining Ian Bell who had scored his maiden Ashes century the day before, was Matt Prior who blazed his way to a scintillating hundred on the fourth morning.

It was the fastest hundred by an England batsman against Australia since Ian Botham's legendary innings at Headingley in 1981, only the third by an England wicketkeeper in Australia.

Prior now has four Test hundreds and on this showing there is no reason he could not challenge Les Ames' longstanding record of eight by an England keeper.

He was irrepressible, carving merrily away at some aberrant Australian bowling as England added 148 from 35 overs in the morning session.

The eighth wicket stand with Tim Bresnan was worth 101 and Graeme Swann rubbed a little salt in to Australia's gaping wounds, which have become deeper, wider and nastier by the day, with a maverick's unbeaten 36.

England came into this series needing to score big first innings runs to win the series. They have succeeded beyond measure — 620 for five at Adelaide, 513 at Melbourne, ultimately the record yesterday — and Australia have been powerless to respond.

Their bowling has lacked firepower, variety and other rudimentary qualities such as accuracy and movement.

The pitch had flattened out. A huge fourth day crowd might at least see Australia begin to repel a few borders.

Setting out with points to prove, they took the fight to England.

But it all went horribly wrong all too soon as England's rigorously accurate attack skewered them and, boy, were they willing victims.

There was a brief burst of dissent as Shane Watson boomed a few drives but the fall of the first wicket epitomised all Australia's frailties. Philip Hughes nudged Graeme Swann to the leg side.

There might or might not have been two runs, but only Watson went for them.

Hughes seemed content to be of strike and the pair were at the same end when the bails were removed at the other.

Hughes was put out of his misery soon after, knowing not whether to stick or twist and was trumped by Tim Bresnan.

The ball soon began reverse swinging and Australia, so recently kings of all they surveyed, were done for. Usman Khawaja was subjugated by Swann and terminated by Jimmy Anderson.

Michael Clarke, the captain, played some robust strokes and it seemed at last that Australia would be led from the front with a final act of defiance.

Not so, for Clarke perished chasing one from Anderson moving away to present Prior with his third catch of the innings, his 21st of the series.

When Mike Hussey slashed to gully, Australia's consolation was that they had recently reduced the deficit to under 200.

There was time for Brad Haddin to be caught behind giving Prior his fourth catch of the innings and Mitchell Johnson to be bowled in successive balls from Chris Tremlett.

The crowd was imploring a swift culmination but England could not summon up the killer blow and Australia could not quite surrender.

But it was a great day for English cricket and English cricketers, one of the greatest.

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