England's medical staff were kept at full stretch yesterday treating a rare condition few of them had previously encountered in their present jobs. But amid the rash of over-slapped backs it was generally agreed that the astonishing one-day victory against Sri Lanka that prompted the outbreak represented a significant turning point in the team's fortunes.
When England win a global one-day tournament – which is now the officially declared objective for the new management – it will doubtless be reflected that this wholly unexpected triumph was the catalyst. That they lead Sri Lanka 3-1 in the five-match series, as a result of some of the grandest collective bowling seen in an England one-day side, is mind-boggling.
As Kevin Pietersen, who was at the crease making an unbeaten 63 when the series-clinching runs were hit, observed: "Everything was against us coming here. We weren't expected to win, we were expected to lose 5-0 especially after being humiliated in the first game. But the guys turned that round next morning and we talked about stuff."
So, England have not only staged a remarkable comeback but also presented a sound case that they actually take one-day cricket seriously. There has been much reassuring bluster about this in the past, rarely borne out by results. Another one-dayer, another England cock-up.
This win led inevitably to another question. Was it achieved despite or because of the split captaincy? Last May, Michael Vaughan decided he wanted to concentrate on the Test captaincy and Paul Collingwood was appointed as one-day captain.
This is usually seen as an unsatisfactory arrangement which can only work temporarily and is regularly the start of the Test captain's journey to the exit door. In some ways, Vaughan, sitting at home, will have felt uncomfortable about events here in Colombo.
Naturally, he will make all the appropriate noises and because he and Collingwood are friends they will be sincere. But that does not erode the nature of the threat. If, for instance, England return to Sri Lanka next month and do badly in the Test series, after also losing to India at home, Vaughan's position would be closely scrutinised.
There is an alternative view. It could be that England are back in the one-day running because they have two captains who can concentrate their entire leadership energies on one role. Pietersen seems all for it.
"I don't see a problem with it," he said. "They're friends and they have a good relationship. Vaughan is a fantastic leader and Colly is growing into the role nicely. I'm able to help Colly and work with him, all that kind of stuff. I don't exactly have that kind of role in the Test arena with Vaughany yet. But I love the bloke. He's a fantastic leader, a good friend and a real great person."
Those words must have been as mother's milk to England's Test captain. But it will not stop the debate and in his way Pietersen himself has fuelled it. Collingwood has undoubtedly performed a decent, understated job. He is growing into the captaincy but every time England have been in the field Pietersen has been noticeable. He has pointed fingers, arranged fields, talked to the bowlers.
"I just offer a helping hand if Colly needs stuff sorted," he said. "It's quite hard when you're a captain and you've got so many things going through your head. He's got to bowl, bat, field, do everything so it's quite nice for me to stand at mid-on and mid-off and have a look at what's going on. Communication is very important in a game of cricket."
This has been a tremendous win. But before too long, before the Ashes of 2009 that is now the other official objective under Hugh Morris, the new managing director of England cricket, England will need to change the split captaincy. The man they may turn to is Pietersen.Reuse content