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Collingwood Calls For ‘Brave’ Campaign

By on June 1, 2009

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England captains have been two-a-penny in the past few months, but if Paul Collingwood looked a little nervous as he faced the media on the eve of his return to the role, it was not because he has taken over a sinking ship in the manner of his immediate predecessors, Andrew Strauss and Kevin Pietersen. Quite the opposite in fact.

For the first time in a long time, England have rediscovered that winning habit, and as the Ashes begin to loom, so too does the invidious nature of Collingwood’s three-week tenancy. On his watch, England’s precious momentum could conceivably be boosted by a glorious maiden triumph in a major global event. More likely, however, it stands to be dented by another ignominious failure to match the skills and chutzpah of the more established limited-overs nations.

Collingwood was at the helm in South Africa two years ago, when England’s only victory in five attempts came against the underdogs of Zimbabwe. With Andrew Strauss stepping aside to let his harder-hitting colleagues take centre stage, Colly’s back in the hot seat, and to judge by these early impressions, he’s finding it hard to inject his words with the right measure of confidence.

“We’ve got to be brave to win a tournament like this,” Collingwood told reporters at Lord’s. “We have to have the belief that we can win as a team, but we also have to have belief in our own ability in the middle. Twenty20 cricket is not an exact science, so you have to think on your feet in the middle. Sometimes it only takes one person, and we’ve got a lot of matchwinners, so I really do believe we can surprise a few people. I’m not going to say we are going to win it, but we have to believe we can win it.”

Ever since England’s near-miss at the 1992 World Cup, their one-day cricket has struggled to cope with the national preference for the five-day version, and in this summer of all summers the disparity seems even more stark than ever – no other national captain, for instance, would have to field questions on the eve of such a prestigious competition about a star player’s fitness for a still-distant Test series – as Collingwood did of Andrew Flintoff.

“Freddie is a world-class player, simple as that,” said Collingwood. “He’ll be coming back into the England side, and he’ll be welcomed back because we’ll need him 100% come the Ashes. But right now we’re concentrating on a major World Cup tournament. If we go all the way and win it, it’s certainly going to give us some major confidence, but this is a one-off. The Ashes is something we’ve been building up to for a long time now. The next three weeks shouldn’t affect the way we approach that.”

It shouldn’t affect anything … but as Collingwood’s demeanour suggested, it just might. “A lot of our momentum comes from results, because when you’re winning things are very easy,” he said. “It’s [difficult] when the losses come along, and we will have losses in this kind of tournament, that’s the nature of Twenty20 cricket. But what we’ve got is a strong team ethos, and it’s not just me that has to drive that, we’ll have to filter that team ethos through to the new guys. They know what is expected of them and the England team.”

For the second time in two Twenty20 tournaments, England’s clutch of new boys could make the difference between success and failure. In 2007, the selectors took a punt on the likes of Darren Maddy, Jeremy Snape, Chris Schofield and James Kirtley – men who had performed with aplomb in the domestic Twenty20 Cup, but who, to a greater or lesser degree, had been found out at the highest level. Sure enough, the experiment failed.

This time, however, Collingwood has far more faith in the men at his disposal. Of the two uncapped members of the original squad, one – Graham Napier – has just returned from an educational stint with the IPL, while the other – Eoin Morgan – justified his call-up with an exceptionally inventive innings of 161 for Middlesex at Kent in the Friends Provident Trophy earlier this month. Despite the innate fatalism that tends to accompany English one-day campaigns, there are genuine reasons why the story could be different this time.

“You look at Ravi Bopara at the top of the order, he’s going to be crucial for us, and Stuart Broad and Jimmy Anderson have developed as bowlers,” said Collingwood. “We have players who are in crucial positions who have gained a lot of international experience since 2007 and I think they’re better players now.

“There are obviously concerns when you meet up as a team that the new guys will not be brought into the side as well as they could be,” he said. “This time around that isn’t a concern, because I think we have a really strong culture in the side, and the guys get on really well. The boys have got the skills and are very confident, and we just want to take that out into the middle.”

Whether the brave talk translates into brave deeds, however, remains to be seen. A fear-free Dutch team, bolstered by the IPL star Dirk Nannes and Essex’s uncompromising allrounder, Ryan ten Doeschate, await in the tournament opener, and then it’s over to Pakistan, beaten finalists in 2007, and a side who are just glad to be back on the international stage after the horrors of Lahore.

“Playing at home could be an added pressure but we’re not taking it like that,” said Collingwood. “We’ve got an advantage in many ways, we know what the wickets are all about here, and we’re very excited about playing in front of our own crowds. No England cricket team has won an ICC tournament before so we have a three-week period here for us as a team to hopefully put that right.”

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo

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