April 11, 2017

Collingwood looks up from the bottom

With a 48-point deficit against their name, Durham have their work cut out in Division Two this year. Their captain knows it's going to be a slog

"It could be an 18-year-old having an exceptional season, it could be a 40-year-old like me" © Getty Images

It was the smell of the grass that made up his mind, Paul Collingwood said, looking out over the expanse of it that he knows best.

We are taking in the lush spring green of Emirates Riverside, as Durham prepare for the start of their season and reflect on the price they have been forced to pay for overstretching themselves in their lofty ambitions to become a major international centre.

It is the same expanse that Collingwood contemplated six years ago, in the wake of being told that his own international status had effectively been terminated, and wondered if he had the will to carry on. He had already retired from Test cricket, but having led England to their first global silverware in the World T20 title the year before, the decision by the selectors to hand the T20 captaincy to Stuart Broad hit him "like a juggernaut."

He thought seriously about quitting altogether. "But then I thought about things and realised there was so much I would miss massively, even the negative things like having to pick yourself up mentally when you are making low scores," he said.

"I played my first competitive cricket match when I was seven. It's in my blood. And I know it sounds ridiculous but I thought about the smell of the grass and how much I'd miss that and I realised that I didn't want to stop." He still hasn't, even on the eve, virtually, of his 41st birthday, as he prepares for his sixth season as Durham captain.

"I think I've probably surprised a few people that I'm still here, but I still believe I have something to give. I'm still learning new things, and honestly, I've worked hard in the gym and I don't think I've ever felt fitter."

There is the matter of motivation, too, which, despite the high probability of being marooned in Division Two of the Championship for at least two seasons, thanks to the draconian penalties imposed by the ECB in return for keeping the club alive, is still strong, if not stronger. If anything, he says, the pain of forced relegation and the challenge of starting 48 points behind everyone else, has fuelled it.

"I know it sounds ridiculous but I thought about the smell of the grass and how much I'd miss that and I realised that I didn't want to stop"

"You can sense a real determination among everyone to get the most out of the season," he said. "There is a real motivation. You know what it's like when you have adversity, it brings everyone together. The response from the players has been fantastic."

Like the chairman and chief executive and everybody else grateful that the club still has a future, Collingwood has been obliged to take the punishment on the chin. He admits that the dressing room has not found it easy.

"There was a lot of anger when we learned what was happening," he said. "The thing that hurts more than anything is that we go out there year in year out and perform as well as we can and we have carried on doing that despite all the cutbacks.

"From the players' point of view, we felt like we are the ones being penalised when we didn't really have anything to do with it. That doesn't seem fair.

"Is it too harsh? It depends which way you look at it.

"From the club's point of view, they have done everything they were asked to do [in terms of developing an international venue]. From the ECB's point of view, they might say that a county should never get into such a financial position where they are unable to pay the players for two months, and that's got to stop.

"But it has happened. It is not the end of the world, we are still playing first-class cricket. At some point you have got to put it on the back-burner and get on with the job."

That job begins with the visit of Nottinghamshire to Chester-le-Street on Good Friday, bringing an immediate chance to measure Durham against a side expected to be among the front runners in Division Two, and already with a win under their belt.

"A good start would be very useful, especially against a good team like Notts," Collingwood said. "On paper you are looking at pretty much an international side, so to get off to a good start against them would give us some momentum and be great for confidence.

"But if we are being honest we are going to need everything to go our way if we are to overcome the 48 points.

"I heard what the chairman [Ian Botham] said about us being the best side and I love Beefy's optimism, but I know county cricket and we're not going to roll teams over. There is a lot of talent in Division Two and we have to respect that.

Graham Onions and Chris Rushworth spearhead Durham's attack © PA Photos

"And losing Mark Stoneman and Scott Borthwick - that's pretty much 3000 runs out of the dressing room.

"We've got the addition of an overseas player this year, which we haven't had too many times in the past. Hopefully he will bring a lot of runs at the top of the order.

"I am confident that we will take 20 wickets. Our bowling attack is very strong. We have a great blend, seasoned professionals such as Graham Onions and Chris Rushworth and some fantastic up-and-coming bowlers as well. In addition, we will have Woody [Mark Wood] at the start.

"Although 48 points is a lot of points you can't write us off completely. It will need two or three players to have the season of their lives but something special could happen.

"It could be an 18-year-old having that exceptional season, it could be a 40-year-old like me."

Which brings the conversation back to Collingwood's future. The body remains willing, the appetite sharp. But for how much longer? Will the grass still smell sweet this time next year?

"I'm just taking it year by year, and at the end of each season we review where we are. I've got things to consider. I don't want to be a player who outstays his welcome. I have to look at the fact that I'm on a decent wage and as the wages bill comes under pressure I will have to look at whether I'm blocking the way for a couple of younger players joining the squad.

"I'd like to think I have something to give in international cricket in terms of coaching, and I'm ridiculously lucky in that I have been able to spend 55 days last year and 60 days this winter with England, while still playing county cricket in the summer.

"I think I'll know when it's time to go and I'll be honest about it.

"But if I still feel I am pushing this team forward, still contributing in the dressing room, still scoring runs, taking wickets and taking catches - if I'm doing all those things, I want to continue."

The name of Durham's ground was corrected at 1130 on April 13

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Pelham on April 13, 2017, 15:40 GMT

    CricketingStargazer on April 13, 2017, 6:27 GMT: True that if Notts beat Durham that will make winning the Second Division Championship almost impossibly difficult for Durham, but there is still the second promotion place to play for.

  • Mark on April 13, 2017, 6:27 GMT

    Well, we'll know soon. If Notts beat Durham in the second round of matches, starting tomorrow, Notts will be around 90 points clear and out of sight. If, in contrast, Durham were to win the game, then the miracle might just be possible. Should Durham start their season with 3 wins - something that it not impossible given their seam-bowling strength - they'll be right in the mix. We'll see. What is certain is that there will be a few catch-weight contests this season with Notts and Durham both looking to bounce back up.

  • Ian on April 12, 2017, 21:49 GMT

    @cricfan27584920: Never in controversy unless he's running out Grant Elliott at Lords?

  • daniel j on April 12, 2017, 12:20 GMT

    For a long time Colly was part of a unique band of 2 with Sir Viv, as the only 2 players in history to have notched a ton and five for in the ODI same match.

    I think a lad from UAE may recently have joined this illustrious pairing!

  • Jackie on April 12, 2017, 8:54 GMT

    Please Jon Culley - check your facts. The green grass of home is the Riverside. The name was changed back to the Riverside two seasons ago!! Colley makes mockery of the ageism led by Brand England. It's the kind of insanity which has led to England's recent slump in Test cricket. The best cricket side according to IPL gurus is a mixture of youth and experience and that's T20 cricket the fastest format. The youth bandwagon puts too much pressure on incoming young players. But Brand England is about "entertainment" whatever the cost including LOSING according to the ECB. Not a sport then. The ECB Agenda is to destroy Durham as a prelude to cutting down on the number of Counties and County season to make way for Franchise T20 cricket, it's unfortunate for their logic that Durham has been one of the best teams in Div 1. Do they care about Durham cricket fans? Do they care about any cricket fans? Handing the ECB over to business moguls is going to be a tragic story for English cricket.

  • dwapar on April 12, 2017, 7:31 GMT

    he can be useful now for england also because you need stability in middle order ,and he can provide that.Absolute Genius .Never in controversy and always respect the game and its team .I find him lot lot better than stokes who just create hype in England as well as in India

  • dwapar on April 12, 2017, 6:25 GMT

    he can be useful now for england also because you need stability in middle order ,and he can provide that.Absolute Genius .Never in controversy and always respect the game and its team .I find him lot lot better than stokes who just create hype in England as well as in India

  • Vyas on April 12, 2017, 5:39 GMT

    My favourite english player and an absolute legend, as rightly sadi by gwd80. The only player to have led England to a world cup win! And he is still so under-appreciated by the media. Among the contemporary English cricketers he is probably the best limited overs player & second best overall behind Cook. If he was an Indian, he would have got an adulation of the level of say an Ashwin.

  • John on April 11, 2017, 19:30 GMT

    Don't forget Colly is also involved in some capacity in the England setup. Great man, respected the world over. Will always remember his catch at the WACA in Ashes 2010-11

  • Mike on April 11, 2017, 17:27 GMT

    Paul Collingwood - what a man.

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