Paul Collingwood sees Durham through the dark times

Jon Culley4 Minute Read
Paul Collingwood has decided to call it a dayGetty Images

At 42 years old, Paul Collingwood knows that, sooner or later, he will have to face the inevitable and decide that a playing career in cricket that began in the last century really is over.

With the end of his 24th season looming into view, that decision might not be far away. He was going to call it a day this time last year but changed his mind - for a second time. Don't be surprised if he puts it off again.

The knowledge that not being on the field will leave an aching void is still there. But this time there is more to the dilemma than whether he can live without playing the game.

Durham are through to the Vitality Blast quarter-finals, in which they face Sussex at Chester-le-Street on Friday evening. After a thumping win over Glamorgan in Cardiff, they have a chance - an outside one, but a chance nonetheless - of returning to Division One in the Championship.

After the bleakest period in the club's history as a first-class county, when the need for a financial bale-out from the ECB nearly two years ago came with relegation and point deductions attached as a "deterrent" to others, there are glimmers of hope.

"It feels exciting again, it's not all doom and gloom any more and it hasn't felt like that for quite a while," he said. "There have been times since the sanctions were put on us that I've talked with Jon Lewis [Durham's head coach] and it felt like after all the hard work that had been done we were back to square one, that we had taken the biggest hit we possibly could have.

"People looked at the relegation and the points deduction and talked about it as a two-year penalty but when you factor in the players who left, top players like [Mark] Stoneman, [Scott] Borthwick and [Keaton] Jennings, it is more like five or six years because you've then got to bring new players through.

"But we've got a new chief exec now in Tim Bostock who is trying to do things differently and I've never known a chairman with more passion than Beefy [Ian Botham]."

Financial pressures also seem to have lifted slightly. Axar Patel, an Indian spin-bowling allrounder, has signed for the last six Championship games and Alex Lees, released by Yorkshire after a long run of failure, will seek faith and form in the north-east.

"The great thing is we are able to recruit again," Collingwood said. "To be able to afford to bring in players like Patel and Lees for the rest of the season in the Championship is huge for the club.

"We think we've got a chance to do something special in Championship. There is light at the end of the tunnel now and, you know, I feel like I want to be part of it."

The improvement in Durham's T20 form has been startling. After just three wins in 14 last season, which would have put them bottom of the North Division irrespective of the four-points deduction imposed as part of the ECB package of penalties, nine victories this season put them second to Worcestershire only on net run rate.

Tom Latham, a New Zealand batsman without huge pedigree as a Twenty20 cricketer, had a strong season as captain and opening batsman and Imran Tahir contributed to several victories.

"But generally we are a team without many big names," Collingwood said. "We went on a little road trip early on in the competition where we won back-to-back games at Edgbaston and Nottingham, games which feel like beating Man U at Old Trafford in football parlance. That gave us a lot of confidence.

"We have been almost workmanlike, really. We've developed a kind of strategy, especially at the Riverside where the playing area is so wide and big scores are harder to get, of essentially trying to outrun the opposition.

"That can be quite hard for a 42-year-old but it has worked for us and hopefully it does again on Friday night."

As for the make-your-mind-up time that he knows he cannot put off for much longer, he remains open-minded.

"To be fair to the club, a decision will have to be made pretty soon if there is one to be made but as yet I really don't know," he said. "I've had a bit of an Achilles problem this year but it did not stop me playing four T20s in six days the other week. I'm still enjoying playing and I still feel I have something to offer.

Coaching opportunities are already offering him other alternatives.

"I've loved every minute of my coaching work with England and we will have to see what opportunities arise but I've no God-given right to walk into a job with the ECB.

"Honestly, we'll just have to wait and see. I have not made a decision as yet and there has been no pressure for me to do so. Until I have to make a final decision I'm just putting every effort into winning games for Durham, starting on Friday night."