In a way, it's just as well that England didn't take those final few wickets this evening, or the retirement of Paul Collingwood would have been swept under the carpet. Paul's never been the most flashy or media-hungry player, but it's right that we stand up and celebrate the achievements of a key part of England's recent renaissance.
Colly's biggest strength was his determination. When all would seem lost, he would often be the only one still holding out hope, and would guide England through. While he was never the most technically gifted player, Colly's strength was making the most out of his abilities. However, to see him as purely a nudger or a nurdler who was mentally strong is unfair, he possesses a great range of strokes (why else would he have played a record amount of ODI games and scored a record amount of ODI runs?). While he may not have the flair of a Kevin Pietersen or Ian Bell, Collingwood maximised the ability he did have through sheer hard work and bloody mindedness.
Collingwood made his test debut in 2003, two years after his ODI debut. Called into the test team after Nasser Hussain pulled out late with flu, Colly then went in and out of the test side over the next couple of years. While England enjoyed one of the most successful periods in recent memory without Colly, he did play his part in winning the Ashes in 2005, coming in for the last test. Yes, he only scored 17 runs, but they were the most important 17 runs he scored. Definitely worth that MBE.
Injuries and illnesses meant Collingwood was given his first chance at being a regular in the England team on the Pakistan / India tours over the following winter, and he earned his place with a few fifties, and his maiden test ton in Nagpur. Following this up with a 186 at Lord's against Pakistan the summer following that, Colly had established his place in the test side.
While the 2006/7 Ashes is certainly one to forget, Colly started it in form, with a 95 at the Gabba, and his most memorable score, 206 at Adelaide. Following the winter of discontent, Colly picked up more test tons, with two against the West Indies, before Colly was appointed England limited overs captain.
Colly has since credited his slump in form after his appointment to the pressures of the job, and he was forced to play a career saving innings against South Africa in 2008, after being dropped for the preceding test. But true to form (and his ability to always pull it out of the bag), Colly made a brave 100, keeping his place going forward, and scoring three centuries against India and the West Indies (x2) over the 2008/9 winter.
The innings which personifies Collingwood more than any is his vigil at Cardiff in the 2009 Ashes. With the game all but lost, Paul batted all day (gritty, gutsy, determined, etc) to save the draw. His persistence and refusal to give up gave England hope and without that innings, England almost certainly wouldn't have won the Ashes later that summer. Being a "good man for a crisis", Colly followed that match-saver up with two more saved-when-should-have-been-lost games in South Africa.
As 2010 turned into 2011, questions began to raise again about Colly's place in the team. Young, exciting batsmen were pushing for places in the team, and Collingwood looked out of form and out of touch. But he was still a big part of the team, whether that's with his dibbly-dobblers (who could ever forget him bowling Mike Hussey with what could be his final ever ball in test cricket?) or his superb fielding. The one handed stunner at Perth being a highlight. Dignified and popular throughout, Collingwood quietly announced his test retirement on the morning of day 4 of the 5th Ashes test.
His role in the team as a fill in bowler wasn't always utilised, but when it was, he was the captain's dream - someone who could hold up an end or take pressure off the frontline bowlers. And could chip in with a crucial wicket (again, I'm talking mainly about him bowling Mike Hussey). And as a fielder he was by far the leading light of his generation - a new generation where fielding was as important a discipline as batting or bowling. And Collingwood was easily the best out there. Whether it's as a slip to the spinner or at backward point, his fielding alone will be missed.
Colly's last year in test cricket has been difficult personally, but he's been lucky enough to be part of a massively successful team. With an away Ashes win all but in the bag, Colly has been part of a team that's made history, and the kind of bloke that he is would always take a win for the team above any personal triumphs. England fans will miss Paul Collingwood the batsman, Paul Collingwood the fielder; even Paul Collingwood the bits-and-pieces bowler. But the keenest he'll be missed is in the England dressing room, where they'll miss Paul Collingwood the man. Enjoy your retirement Colly (but not for too long, there's a one day series to win yet...)
Note - just saw an interview with Collingwood just as I was finishing writing this piece. Thanks Colly
And here's why you'll miss Colly