Lord's: That Shivnarine Chanderpaul values his wicket like few others is not a matter for debate. His team-mate Darren Bravo felt it, the umpire Marius Erasmus felt it and, most painfully of all, the England bowlers felt it. All three found at the start of an international summer that getting him to leave the crease is no easy matter.
More than 18 years since he made his Test debut, Chanderpaul is ranked the No. 1 Test batsman in the world, which is proof enough that, at 37, his appetite for batting has not diminished. He finished the opening day of the first Test unbeaten on 87 from 175 balls, with his average against England in England climbing beyond 69.
That England could claim nevertheless to have got the job done was down to the competitive zeal of Stuart Broad, who became stronger as the day progressed and who took all five wickets in the final session, with old ball and new, as West Indies faltered from 181 for 4. But as well as he bowled in a session that Chanderpaul was threatening to flatten, and as fulfilled as he looked as he acknowledged the applause, it still felt like a coda to a Guyanese day.
Chanderpaul's innings was not without collateral damage as he played a central role in the run out of his team-mate Darren Bravo in mid-afternoon. He was guilty of ball watching when he clipped Graeme Swann backward of square, took a couple of paces forward, enough to lure Bravo into attempting a rash single, whereupon he made a timely return to his crease shortly before Bravo arrived alongside him. Matt Prior's transfer of Ian Bell's throw to the bowler's end was inaccurate enough for Swann to have to dive to his left to retrieve and complete the run out with a measure of relief.
England came close to dismissing Chanderpaul on three occasions. Three overs after the run-out of Bravo, umpire Erasmus upheld James Anderson's appeal for lbw, around the wicket, after Chanderpaul raised arms and was hit on the pad. But Chanderpaul reviewed it with the calm demeanour of a batsman who knew his angles and Hawk-Eye suggested the ball was comfortably missing off stump.
Swann could have had him lbw on 63, but England failed to review. By the time he was on 74, England's captain, Andrew Strauss, gambled on Stuart Broad's conviction that he had him lbw - never a wise move - and the ball was shown to have pitched outside leg stump.
England's seam bowlers bowled wide of off stump at Chanderpaul until tea, often to 7-2 fields, respectful of his strength through the legside. They attacked the stumps more in the final session. Graeme Swann invited the sweep and his offspinners went for 14 in an over. Through it all, Chanderpaul's river rolled along, not as rapid as the Demerara in his native Guyana, more a languid plotting of the safest route through the mangroves. He bats to his own moods, at No.5, because he is comfortable doing so; to question, as has Brian Lara among others, is to invite his failure.
A cool, inhospitable English spring was a daunting challenge for the West Indies and when Anderson, England's player of the year, has a Dukes ball in his hand, the task is all the more challenging. He predictably made inroads in what for him were near-perfect bowling conditions with two wickets by lunch, bowling Kieran Powell with a superb delivery that snaked back to take the top of off stump and disorientating Kirk Edwards first up with an inswinger out of the Harry Potter school of wizardry before removing him with a full and straight one. Anderson even gave the on-field pep talk before play began. He is a man of few words and has probably found that an equally difficult skill to master.
It was no surprise that England chose to bowl. The pitch was white and gleaming but it was what lay above and below that mattered. The groundsman, Mick Hunt, regarded underlying moisture as inevitable and up above the cloud cover added to the sense that batting would be difficult. As it turned out, there was more swing - and mostly for Anderson - than seam and the surface was slow. Anderson was outstanding as he swung the ball lavishly before lunch; Bresnan was steadfast and economical. But Broad's final-session flourish salvaged a more difficult day than they might have imagined.
But West Indies' recent history also made Strauss' decision a logical one. West Indies sides coming to England used to invite a sense of awe. These days, for many they bring a sense of regret, a regret at their inability to stand alongside the first-tier nations, illustrated by their record of two wins in their past 30 Tests.
The great West Indian sides could strut their stuff in midsummer in conditions that were more in their favour, but weaker West Indies sides have become the English season's support act and so must play their Test cricket earlier when conditions are stacked against them. It makes their task of recovery doubly difficult. They often came close to having a good day, particularly at 181 for 4, at which point Marlon Samuels, who had added 81 with Chanderpaul for the fifth wicket, drove uncertainly at a fullish, wide one from Broad and edged to backward point.
England followed their two wickets before lunch with two more in the afternoon. Adrian Barath, who had included some cultured cover drives in his 42 - nine boundaries in all - fell to a gully catch by Anderson, who fell backwards as he parried, but caught at the second attempt. England had failed with an lbw review against Barath earlier in the over, but retained their two reviews because Broad had overstepped.
Bravo had fortunate moments even before his run-out. There was reason for England supporters to rue Andrew Strauss' conservatism when Bravo edged his first ball, from Anderson, at catchable height through a vacant fourth slip. Swann should also have caught him at second slip off James Anderson in the previous over, the ball rebounding off his chest. There is something about catching the ball out of the egg-and-bacon backdrop in the Lord's pavilion that can defeat the best of slip catchers.
But England's catching sparked up in the final session as Broad picked off Chanderpaul's unreliable allies at regular intervals. Denesh Ramdin was undone by extra bounce. Then came three wickets with the new ball: Darren Sammy, working too square on the leg side and caught off a leading edge; Kemar Roach, chipping a return catch; and Fidel Edwards, caught at the wicket to end the day after Chanderpaul had got off strike from the first ball of the final over.
Broad walked off to the flattery of a contented crowd. But there, somewhere in the corner of his eye, was a batsman of immense durability. He remained not out, and is still England's unsolved challenge for the Test series that lies ahead.