One topic above all continues to dominate the early season. It has been fuelled by scores of 0 and 6 and if the flames are not yet engulfing Andrew Strauss, only one repellent on earth can extinguish them. He needs a Test hundred and he needs one smartish.
Advice, guidance and criticism are pouring in and the supply increased last week with his two failures for Middlesex against Durham at Lord's. He faced 27 balls and was twice bowled by Graham Onions, a fast bowler with points to prove who was thus proving them. Michael Vaughan knows precisely what Strauss is going through.
Three years ago, Vaughan was the captain of England, struggling for international runs and desperate for one more crack at Australia. His batting average was heading south and his side had recently lost series against India and Sri Lanka. Strauss's England lost to Pakistan in the winter and the series-levelling victory against Sri Lanka earlier this month may yet prove a more significant event than it seemed at the time.
"With every failure it gets harder," said Vaughan. "Even in county games, every low score results in a headline that hits you and you get asked about it more often and it becomes a mental battle. His feet are moving all right and his game is in good order, but when you're out of form you think about the one thing that can go wrong."
In 2008, Vaughan came back from a dreadful tour of New Zealand out of form and out of luck. He was still unquestionably the man to lead the side because by and large they were still winning and as the man who regained the Ashes, he still had abundant credit. Just like Strauss. Vaughan is hugely supportive of his successor and his objectives but not sure where the runs might come from, especially in an English season where the ball seems destined to move unobligingly about. And every low score will merely bring the flames closer. The most quoted statistic in English cricket is that Strauss has scored one hundred in his last 50 Test innings, none in his last 25.
"For a player of his experience and his age, another net is not going to solve the problem," said Vaughan. "Neither is runs for his county. He went into the Pakistan series with runs and into the Sri Lanka series with runs, so it has been proven that runs away from the Test arena are irrelevant for him.
"He just has to score runs come 17 May and the first Test [against the West Indies], and I do think he will. I just think he's got more to give and he's not at the end of the road yet. When you give up one form of the captaincy [the one-day game], you give something away, but with Straussy he still just loves it and he wants to play against Australia again next year.
"With a goal like that it can keep you hungry, for me I just wasn't fit enough and wasn't playing well enough to keep going and I woke up one morning and knew the answer. When that morning is for Straussy I just don't know."
Vaughan was at Lord's last week for Middlesex's match and remains perplexed at Strauss's appearance. He was a hostage to fortune and runs in the match might not have counted for much because he will not play again until next week.
"He's got two weeks off now and then he plays again, why not just play in the two games before the Test match? I really don't read anything into his failures in that game at all, I don't think he should have been playing. He's just going to have to work his bollocks off and get a bit of luck along the way. He might need a dropped catch, because he'll get nothing from lbw decisions because of DRS, but just the odd thing to go his way.
"The one thing about Andrew Strauss is that he is tough and he's saying the right things, he still thinks there is a chance to regain his best form and he could do."
Vaughan briefly doused the blaze three years ago by scoring a hundred against New Zealand at Lord's, marked by its lack of trademark elegance. He suggested that playing the opening Test at Lord's may help Strauss as it helped him. The ground is a favourite for both of them. Vaughan scored six centuries there, Strauss has four including the 112 he made on his Test debut and the scintillating 161 against Australia 51 innings ago.
"If there was one ground he wants to go to needing a hundred it is Lord's. It was the same for me, I arrived at Lord's and I did a Q&A on the Tuesday night and at the dinner I said I felt like I would score a hundred that week because I felt comfortable.
"He'll arrive there and think, 'This is my ground', he's up against a West Indies attack that he would fancy [and] they might get their lengths wrong. But I would say he'll need some ugly runs first. If he scores a hundred all this talk will go away, but until he gets it, for a player of his ability, it will be a question mark.
"Straussy is very much like I am and as England captain you become a bit of a politician and you know how to answer the questions," said Vaughan. "You sit in a press conference and you know how to take questions and send as positive a message as possible. You can play a straight bat and get through it, but inwardly he will be desperate to get some runs."
Vaughan of course made his ugly hundred at Lord's against New Zealand but it was a temporary reprieve. Five Test matches later he resigned. Strauss is determined to continue but he will be aware of the history.
Michael Vaughan supports the NatWest Locals v Legends T20 series, a nationwide campaign giving NatWest CricketForce Fundraiser registered clubs the chance to raise club funds and take on Vaughan's NatWest Legends XI this August. Bring the game to your club by visiting natwest.com/cricketReuse content