Collingwood, the toast

England won the first final by Collingwood's dogged innings and his ability to switch to attack mode in the last few overs and with the aid of the rain took out the second in comfort, writes Ted Corbett.

Frustratingly for those with an independent turn of mind, it was possible to see that the Australians had their difficulties during the one-day series even though neither England nor New Zealand could produce cricket consistent enough to prove our theories.

The side is also subject to the most outrageous demands, partly because they are so successful and just as much because each team that pits itself against their might puts in a maximum effort.

So, although they are deservedly champions, Australia are always under pressure, every move players, selectors and the coach make is observed and analysed in the greatest detail and the expectations of their supporters are unnaturally high.

The West Indies from 1978-1992 had the same problem. They had just crushed the England of Ian Botham, David Gower and Graham Gooch twice in a row by 5-0 when a Trinidad taxi driver told me the selectors were wrong in almost every place in the team!

But those were leisurely days compared with the Tests without rest days and the unceasing stream of one-day series that is cricket in 2007.

I believe that John Buchanan, Australia's distinguished coach who has led them to the highest peak attained by any side in the long history of the game, made a mistake when he insisted on a new, more tiring, training schedule for the side in the middle of the one-day series.

He wanted to taper off the training late in the tournament, and not turn it up to maximum heat again until the World Cup.

That was his way of dealing with the congestion that is modern international cricket. He wanted a fit team but he also wanted — as they stepped from the tri series in Australia, to the Chappell-Hadlee matches in New Zealand and on to the Caribbean — to give his players ample rest.

These were admirable sentiments and his players seemed to go along with his ideas but the extra training left them drained for the matches of the tri-series.

Then, uncharacteristically, he made another error. He went public with a set of ideas that included a demand for England to give his side a fight. He criticised them as a team and as individuals.

That upset any number of England players who knew that but for a moment or two of carelessness, bad luck — and particularly — bad umpiring decisions they would have been much closer to Australia in the Test whitewash.

So when the luck began to flow against Australia — with the injury to Andrew Symonds and dropped catches that allowed Ed Joyce and Ian Bell to play significant innings — England remembered his words and drove all the harder towards the finishing line.

"Be careful what you wish for" is a saying in many languages and perhaps Buchanan should have heeded that. But who can blame him? He has been in charge of a bunch of winners for so long he has earned the right to a little arrogance and the setback at the hands of England does not mean that suddenly the World Cup is up for grabs.

At full strength Australia are still a great side.

As the tri-series began they looked it too, with all the old ingredients in place, all the bases covered.

They beat England comfortably at Brisbane when their worries about Matthew Hayden's lack of form were disguised by the dashing Adam Gilchrist and the unstoppable Ricky Ponting, eventually and without argument, the Man of the Series.

How good is Ponting? We must wait to find out but, as he scores his runs in the same gushing way as he speaks, we must ask if he would outplay Bradman on a level playing field.

I have often wondered if Brian Lara might not be a finer batsman than the Don if Bradman had been forced to play one-day cricket as well as Tests. I have added Ponting who like Sachin Tendulkar has a mountain of runs in both forms of the game.

I also suspect that Ponting and Lara are more attractive to watch than Bradman but that is in the eyes of the beholder and there is no question that the Don was the very special batsman and must always be viewed as such.

By the end of the second match — against the Kiwis — Australia had made it clear that they would qualify early and by the end of the next three matches Kevin Pietersen had gone home with cracked ribs and New Zealand had only shown how vulnerable they were when Shane Bond had to be rested repeatedly.

He was the most destructive force among the three sides but his career has been blighted by injury to such an extent that it is almost impossible to give him a genuine rating.

Australia continued to win — without Ponting, either after winning the toss or batting second and sharing the wickets among Brett Lee, Nathan Bracken and Glenn McGrath and always fielding as if their lives would be forfeit if they dropped a catch or fumbled a return — until the end of the qualifying matches.

Then Symonds was injured and suddenly we all became aware of just what an essential link in their jigsaw this huge man was.

Get him to the wicket at 140 for four after 35 overs and the force of his hitting might bring up 300. On slow pitches he bowled his off breaks, on helpful wickets he bowled at 125kph and then there was his fielding.

Like Collingwood in the England side he can field in the deep, he is brave close at those dangerous spots like short cover and he is quick in the slips.

But cover point is his natural home where he can almost be heard to purr like an oversized male tiger, where his stalking walk turns into a run and a pounce in an instant and where his throws, overhand or underhand, are devastatingly accurate.

(He is also an intelligent theorist as his appearances on Channel Nine proved after his injury. But then, like the lion, the crocodile and the fast bowler, Symonds is a predator and in order to catch their prey every day, predators have to be bright.)

His absence, amid hopes his detached arm muscle would be repaired in time for the World Cup, turned the tide for England.

In nine days from the beginning of February they were a different side. They rode their luck and followed the lead given by Collingwood and Andrew Flintoff who found his role as hitter and fast bowler fulfilling and was able to devote his energies to captaincy too.

England won the first final by Collingwood's dogged innings and his ability to switch to attack mode in the last few overs and with the aid of the rain took out the second in comfort.

We knew the match was won when Andrew Flintoff had Michael Hussey caught for a duck and he did the hip-shaking celebration that he began in the Ashes triumph of 2005 and grinned as his players leapt on him.

It was all we asked throughout this long, wretched 99 days; a sign that the team were still capable of raising their game, of competing with the best and sometimes beating them.

That is what we have learnt in the last three years — that on their day England can beat anyone, although as undemonstrative Englishmen we do not necessarily want to beat everyone and fly our colours from the highest flagpole.

We will leave that to the triumphant Australians and, despite this victory, there is a suspicion they will have further moments of glory before they come to England to renew the Ashes battles in 2009.

Bring it on. THE SCORES

Second final: Sydney Cricket Ground, February 11. England won by 34 runs.

England 246 for eight in 50 overs (M. B. Loye 45, I. R. Bell 26, P. D. Collingwood 70, A. Flintoff 42) beat Australia 152 for eight in 27 overs — target 187 from 27 overs ( B. J. Hodge 49, S. R. Watson 37, Plunkett three for 43).

First final: Melbourne Cricket Ground, February 9. England won by four wickets.

Australia 252 in 48.3 overs (M. L. Hayden 82, R. T. Ponting 75, M. J. Clarke 33, A. Flintoff three for 41) lost to England 253 for six in 49.3 overs (I. R. Bell 65, P. D. Collingwood 120 not out, A. Flintoff 35, Brett Lee three for 41).