Collingwood deserves praise

Paul Collingwood... making rapid strides.-AP

There will soon be a result to the BBC Sports Personality of the Year and to be frank about it the organisers are struggling to find the right man or woman to wear the crown. Perhaps they ought to look at the claim of Paul Collingwood who hit 206in the second Test, writes Ted Corbett.

December 4: Australia is big. It is further from Sydney to Perth than from London to Moscow, it is a wide brown land according to a poet, and full of men who never step to one side and women who speak their minds about every subject of earth; even if they raise their voices at the end of sentences to question almost every one of their own statements. The cars are big too, from the four-wheel drives that contribute so much to global warming, to the especially souped-up Fords and Vauxhalls which it is compulsory to drive past my hotel with the accelerator jammed to the floor every night. The fact that Adelaide stages a grand prix race may contribute to the wish for husky young men to drive as if they were Jensen Button but is there really any need for so many cars to be the size of small bungalows? Probably not. As I walk through a car park next to Adelaide Oval I count 400 cars and only two of them are what a reasonable man might call economical.

December 5: In no particular order here are fine England batsmen who tour Australia since Wally Hammond scores his 231 at Sydney in 1936-7: Bob Barber, Michael Vaughan, Derek Randall, Chris Broad, Kevin Pietersen, Reg Simpson, Len Hutton, Denis Compton, Keith Fletcher, Geoff Boycott, Ian Botham, David Gower, Ken Barrington, Brian Luckhurst, John Edrich, Graham Thorpe, Graham Gooch, Mike Gatting, David Sheppard, Peter May, Colin Cowdrey, Tom Graveney, Alec Stewart, Alan Knott, Mike Atherton, Ted Dexter. All 26 fail to get to 200 yet Paul Collingwood, an unglamorous type in only his 17th Test and generally thought of as a makeshift No. 4 batsman, exceeds his brief by a considerable margin when he hits 206 off Warne, McGrath and company this week-end. There will soon be a result to the BBC Sports Personality of the Year and to be frank about it the organisers are struggling to find the right man or woman to wear the crown. Perhaps they ought to look at the claim of Collingwood. Or even Matthew Hoggard whose bowling matches Shane Warne's for persistence and stamina; at twice the pace too. Hammond is a great batsman with an uncertain temper. He has a nasty illness early in his career and, according to one chap I meet many years ago, gives off a most unpleasant smell. I meet the son of Denis Compton and he has a poor impression of Hammond. "My father says he does not enjoy his cricket when Hammond is captain," he recalls. My mother's best friend marries Hammond one Saturday afternoon and does not see him — because of his cricket duties — for almost a year. How different from the modern cricketer who can be seen wheeling small babies round the cities of Australia every day.

December 6: So we are off to Perth, on one of those cheap airlines that are springing up all round the world. You know, you have to pay for the tea and coffee and any food but on this one you get a quiz and a lady with a sense of humour. She is the chief stewardess and as we land at Perth she goes through the list of dos and don'ts and finishes her little sermon by saying: "And, please don't forget, the last one off the plane is a rotten egg." I don't suppose England will travel by economy airline but if they need cheering up after the unhappy events of the fifth day at Adelaide, this lady might be the answer. Back in London the reaction to the defeat is predictably violent. Fletcher must go, the columnists say, while he reveals that he and Andrew Flintoff, the England captain, choose the side after consulting Andrew Strauss, the former captain, Paul Collingwood, one of the successes and, believe it or not, Geraint Jones, who has just returned after being dropped. `The Daily Mirror' called the batsmen "Chokers" after what `The Times' called "an hour of madness." I have to admit that the old sub-editor in my soul loved `The Sun' summary: Wombats 2, Wombles 0. I also admire the comment of Paul Burnham, the organiser of the Barmy Army, who says it is madness — I assume he means at this stage — to blame the captain and coach. But later, Paul, Fletcher will have to go.

December 7: As we land in Perth, Michael Vaughan is making seven runs in 40 minutes and hailing the innings as some sort of triumph. Now, it appears, he is ready to play in the Boxing Day Test. How will the 16 members chosen to make the trip react? I remember long ago in Barbados there is an injury crisis and we think that David Gower, ignored by the selectors and writing a column for one of the newspapers, may come back. Instead Gower is again left out because, the management decide, it is unfair to bring in an outsider.

December 8: Odd that two of the most affable cricketers die at the same time. You will walk 100 miles and not meet a nicer guy than Graham Roope, perhaps the greatest second slip in the history of the game, although Ian Botham and Mark Waugh run him close. Geoff Griffin, is another man with a sunny disposition although that is tested to the limit when he is no-balled for throwing at Lord's and takes a hat-trick in the same Test.

December 9: Another old friend, predating this diary, surfaces this week. He is Haseeb Ahsan, a whistling off-spinner with a suspect action, a smiling tour manager in 1987, chief selector when England tour the following autumn and a kingmaker in Pakistan cricket for many years. Now he is a member of the appeal committee that decides Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammad Asif do not take any sort of drug which stirs up a whole mess of controversy again. By a 2-1 majority too. Trouble follows Ahsan like water flows downhill. He is sent home midway through his tour as a cricketer, he loves to taunt the England team in Pakistan and he plays a part in the Faisalabad Test which is brought to a halt by the confrontation between Mike Gatting and the umpire Shakoor Rana. Gatting has a lovely nature but the mere mention of that row brings out the worst in him as I discover only a few months ago.

December 10: I'm not sure if Damien Martyn is right to retire but I admire the style. It was clear at the end of his second innings at Adelaide that he is having private thoughts about his future; just a sly smile as he walks off. Perhaps it is the decision to bat Michael Hussey ahead of him, perhaps he knows his powers are waning. So he goes away for a couple of days and then sends a text to Cricket Australia to announce he is quitting. Nasser Hussain acts in much the same way. Two fours through the covers to score a century at Lord's and beat New Zealand and then a swift farewell. I like the style which seems to me to be what sport is all about.