Nothing confuses the issue quite like an England cricket captain. That was Andrew Strauss down by the pool at the team's Colombo hotel yesterday, back in charge and sounding it.
He has returned to assume full control for the tour of Sri Lanka, which starts properly today with the first of two practice matches before a Test series also of two matches. By cricket standards it is whistle-stop stuff. The tourists will be home at Easter.
Strauss's last period in charge ended in a 3-0 drubbing by Pakistan in the Test series in the UAE last month. After that, England prevailed in both limited-overs series, first under Alastair Cook and then under Stuart Broad, respectively the one-day international and Twenty20 leaders. People begin to talk – though not, apparently, in the team, where the feasibility of Strauss being undermined by the short-form minor success is treated as risible.
"It's a great thing, surely," said Strauss. "It's not something that's bothered me. All I want is for the England team to do well. The reason we have separate captains is to allow us to each concentrate on one form of the game and really add some energy and motivation to that form. So far it's worked really well and I'm delighted for Cooky. It's fantastic. He's had a tough introduction to the one-day captaincy and it's great to see his batting and captaincy develop so well."
Actually, the reason England have three captains is because Strauss withdrew from both limited-overs versions of the game, first Twenty20 and then ODIs. Since Cook was seen almost as a like-for-like replacement in 50-over cricket but was deemed unsuitable for T20 necessity, as so often, was the mother of this particular invention. There remains scope for all manner of cock-ups. The first priority is for Strauss to regain authentic Test form.
In taking England to No 1 in the world for the first time since rankings were introduced, he has amassed lavish credit and is entitled to a bonus – in his case of unquestioned selection – rather more than the average bank executive. But he needs big runs, starting in this series. He has one hundred in 46 Test innings.
"I need and want to take the momentum Alastair has gained for us to help us move forward in the Test team," said Strauss. "We're all in this together. There are no egos at play here and I don't think people are out to undermine each other. We're all focused on the same thing, which is England winning as many games as possible."