PAUL COLLINGWOOD is ready for the final battle of the Bore War. As England prepare for Thursday’s final Test against South Africa, Durham’s dogged Determinator grins: “I might bore a few people but it’s a job. And it’s a job I enjoy. And I love to annoy the opposition.”
And annoy them he has. England go into the last chance saloon at the Wanderers “Bull Ring” in Johannesburg knowing a draw will secure a shock 1-0 series triumph – largely thanks to Collingwood’s obdurate attitude at the crease. After twice helping England to last-wicket draws, he says: “We’re happy with where we are at the minute, but if we can get that draw or a win, that’d be magic for us.
“I’ve always been a fighter, ever since growing up with my brother in my early teens. I will always go out there and fight. This whole team has shown that resilience. Obviously you need flair and genius at times, but in Test cricket resilience is so important.
"Getting a draw when the other side are winning can be vital. It really hurts the opposition. And for me, staying out there for four hours and getting 40 can be better than a hundred.”
Collingwood, described by coach Andy Flower as “a typical British bulldog” after yet another match saving innings in Cape Town last week, has been central to England’s trio of last wicket stands – the first against Australia in Cardifff last summer, then twice against South Africa in the first and third Tests of this absorbing series.
I enjoyed a net with Collingwood last summer (see picture) and he remains the most approachable of the England players. And his resolve remains undimmed after three months on safari surviving record-breaking temperatures, numerous injuries and a wild Dale Steyn in Cape Town.
The most consistent of England’s batters – he got 50 and 26 not out to aid survival in Centurion, 91 in Durban’s innings triumph then 19 and 40 off 188 balls of stoic resistance in Cape Town – simply refuses to accept his body is struggling to cope with the endless strain of international cricket.
He has delayed the operation on his dislocated shoulder for eight years – “I can’t afford to take three months out” – and still needs the odd cortisone injection to clear things up. He has been having ice treatment on his back problems which have eased since early in the tour but he dislocated his left index finger warming up in Durban three weeks ago and was wearing two large strips of adhesive tape on his left inner thigh at nets yesterday.
But there he was today, netting like a madman. He got hit on that left finger by Graham Onions but shrugged it off and batted on. Then he bowled at full pace for an hour, beating the bat as many times as any of England’s quicker bowlers.
The British Bulldog? “Andy can describe me however he wishes,” grins Collingwood, “My innings out here have been very special. Centurion was good and in Cape Town, I always had the belief we could do it.
“It was such a big game for us. It’s hard to measure these innings. They’re not about runs, it’s about the time you spent in the middle. The attitude you show to the other players, the balls you face.
“I think those innings are worth a hundred, it may not come across that way. To get over the line we way we have done in those two games was special.
“Those innings give me more pleasure than some hundreds. I’m sure Ian Bell has discovered that. He scored elegantly for 140 in Durban but I’m sure when he came off in Cape Town with 78 after four hours, it was even better.
“He was under pressure a couple of games ago, to show that mental strength will mean a lot to him.
"This is a huge week for us. To win this series would mean so much.”
Collingwood survived being given out first ball in Cape Town, thanks to the new-fangled review system. He said: “It’s good for the game. It will improve the game in the future. But at time it can be frustrating with all the stoppages.”
If groundsman Chris Scott does what he’s been told and leaves a little grass on the No5 strip out here on Friday, Colly may just find himself bowling a real spell for the first time in this series when Stuart Broad, Onions and Jimmy Anderson tire.
Bowling at something close to full pace for the first time in weeks at nets this morning, he said: “I feel very comfortable, but my full pace is what you might call medium. Usually when there is a bit more in the wicket, the last person they’ll turn to is me! We’ve got the guys with the skill to swing it.
“When I get the ball we tend to be in a bit of strife, I hope I don’t get too much bowling here.”
Colly famously tends to be at the other end when Kevin Pietersen is playing his best cricket but with the South African-born batsman struggling, Collingwood insists: “KP scored nice runs in Centurion. I think we always look at KP and think he should be doing it every match. He’s sort of a genius, if he goes a couple of games without runs, the pressure comes on. I’m sure he will produce something in this game.”
And then we return to his favourite topic. Staying power. He says: “To have this kind of resilience when you’re under the pump is a great strength to have in a team. You need your flair, your bits of genius, but we’ve shown in the last six months, we’ve got it in the locker if we need it.
“And we’re finding more and more players who have that resilience in our team as this tour goes on – like Belly in Cape Town.
“South Africa have outplayed us quite a lot in the sessions but we’ve got that strength. It’s an important part of Test cricket to get a draw from a game you might lose. It takes a lot out of the opposition.
“We feel refreshed after Cape Town. Andy Flower and Andy Strauss have identified times when we can recharge the batteries. It’s important after two tough Tests. The last two days in training, we’ve shown a lot of energy. This week means a lot of us.
“It was nice to have a couple of days break but we have to come out and play. We can’t sit back and rely on this position. It’s a huge week for us. We want to go away winning the series.
“I’m just enjoying my game. But those situations, I really love.“