What a magnificent catch from Teague Wyllie! He’d go on to make a century in Australia’s comfortable win.
In the summer of 1998/99, the England cricket team lost its way through another hot Australian cricket season to make it twelve Ashes-less years.
At the same time, the man to later win an MBE, the Ashes twice, as well as score an Ashes double century, not to mention captain England to its first limited overs tournament win, was playing a little club cricket in Auckland.
Paul Collingwood was the overseas professional at Cornwall Cricket Club that summer season as a 21-year old. This is the little known chapter in Collingwood’s rise to the top of the cricketing world, the story of a New Zealand summer wielding the willow in Cornwall Park, at the base of Auckland’s One Tree Hill.
David Storer, the captain of Cornwall’s premier team that season, was also Collingwood’s flatmate for the summer. “He stayed with me and my wife, a good flatmate, a good character.”
Storer remembers picking up Collingwood from the airport when he arrived in New Zealand early one morning. “We had a net [practice session] before noon, straight off the plane,” he says. “He wanted to show everyone how committed he was.”
Mark Boustridge was a third grade player that season, says Collingwood was a good club man. “He was a pretty young fella; he hadn’t travelled away from home, pretty green on the gills.”
“He had a lot of confidence though. Get him on the piss and you couldn’t shut him up.”
Rex Smith, who was in his fourth season as Cornwall’s premier coach at the time had seen it all at the club. He was a premier player from 1972 to 1994 before coaching, a man who is Cornwall’s version of the New Zealand club stalwart.
Smith recalls Collingwood well, “He was very young, very fresh on the county scene, an opening bat who bowled a bit.”
“He struggled a bit because he was primarily a back-foot player who struggled with the conditions in New Zealand. Low, slow green seaming wickets. He ended up batting in the middle order”.
“His bowling was useful, he shaped it away nicely and took a few wickets, a good young pro and a good bloke, always gave 100 percent.”
He was a good influence, a great pair of hands that you can see now as a world class fielder, his batting was not as he or we would have liked; too much of a back-foot player to succeed in New Zealand conditions”.
Craig Pryor, an opponent of Collingwood’s through that summer has a rather blurred memory of dismissing him when his Grafton side played Cornwall. “The only real memory was getting him out, it jagged back in from outside off stump to bowl him.”
Pryor says it’s just a good story to tell the boys at cricket occasionally.
Smith laughs with the benefit of hindsight when asked if he expected Collingwood to enjoy the career he has. “No, I did not.”
“He didn’t have that obvious stamp of class, but what he did have was a real gutsy, gritty determination which has taken him to where he is now.”
“He has adapted and learned and become a fine player”.
Storer reluctantly says “probably not” when asked the same question, the loyalty he feels still there in his voice.
“As a character it was no surprise though. We watched him score his Ashes double century against Warne and McGrath. Seeing him gutsing it out. He never took a backward step. I recognised that in him.”
“One of the most committed people I’ve ever meet. He was committed to being as good a cricketer as he could be, the most competitive person I have ever met and a good laugh as well.”
He has been delighted to watch the Collingwood’s career from afar. “I’m in bits for him. We’ve exchanged a few texts over the years, particularly after he has done well.”
Eight short seasons later little had changed at Cornwall Park. Paul Collingwood, the man who would have once enjoyed a post training beer was instead winning a battle with Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath on the big screen.