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 poppycock.
"It's a great thing, surely," said Strauss. "Honestly I don't understand the mind-set at all. 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.
If it is less of a hotch-potch so far than Heath Robinson might have concocted, 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, in which span his average is only 33.
"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."
It has often been pointed out that the English cricket team is merely a reflection of the country as a whole so it was difficult to know whether to be reassured or not that everybody is in it together.
England will presumably play their probable team for the first Test in the first match against a Sri Lanka Board XI. The No 6 batting spot seems to be between Ravi Bopara, who has waited for his chance, and Samit Patel, who could only play as the second spinner in a five-man attack.
There is an element of controversy surrounding the tour, not all to do with cricket and the parlous state of Sri Lanka's finances. A Channel 4 documentary, Sri Lanka's Killing Fields: War Crimes Unpunished was aired last night and it has already caused consternation in the Indian parliament.
A sequel to an original film that was shown last year, the documentary asks why there has been as yet no action over alleged atrocities committed by government soldiers in the last days of the civil war, against the Tamil population. The film is as shocking and disturbing as any footage from recent wars and it is no accident that Channel 4 screened it to coincide with England's arrival.
To his credit, Strauss did not duck the question.
"It's a bit of a tricky one," he said. "All round us, we see atrocities taking place all over the world and in war a lot of unsavoury things happen on both sides. I personally think the political issues are best dealt with by the politicians and administrators.
"But that doesn't mean we should stick our heads in the sand. If the government feel there is cases to answer to a great enough extent that the England team shouldn't be touring somewhere then that is a call they need to make. Until that is the case, it would be wrong for us to focus on anything other than the cricket."
With respect, neither of the other captains could have dealt with such sense and sensibility. Strauss, of course, must stay.
* Today-Saturday Board XI
R Premadasa Stadium (Colombo)
* 20-22 March Development Squad
Sinhalese Sports Ground (Colombo)
* 26-30 March 1st Test v Sri Lanka
Galle International Stadium (Galle)
* 3-7 April 2nd Test v Sri Lanka
P Sara Oval (Colombo)
* 18 April England depart Colombo
England probable team (for warm-up match v Board XI) A J Strauss, A N Cook, J Trott, K Pietersen, I R Bell, S R Patel, M J Prior, S C J Broad, G P Swann, S T Finn, J M Anderson.Reuse content