Andrew Strauss's century silences critics
Lord's has seen bigger hundreds. It has seen more important hundreds. But the standing ovation that Friday's full house gave Andrew Strauss as he celebrated his first Test century in a year-and-a-half was as long and as loud as any at headquarters in an age.
It wasn't just that the skipper's unbeaten 121 put his side in complete control of this first Test, with a lead of 16 and seven first-innings wickets in hand.
It was a collective celebration, a sympathetic sigh of relief, that one of England's most popular leaders had finally emerged from the most prolonged and agonising slump of his career.
"Outwardly you're always going to say you're playing well, that you're just one innings from playing as well as you ever have," says Alec Stewart, England's most capped player and here at Lord's as an analyst for the BBC.
"But inwardly you are asking yourself questions. Am I still good enough? When will these runs come?
"Inside he would have been hurting, and in a way a little embarrassed that he hadn't been offering enough to his side as a batsman. He needed this score to put the whispers to bed.
"It's not just his technique that has been examined over the past year-and-a-half. The longer his barren run has gone on, the more the mental side of his game will have been tested too."
Strauss struck the 20th century of his Test career. Photo: PA
For a large part of his Test career, Strauss has excelled at converting good starts into big scores. At the end of the last Ashes in England he had made hundreds on 18 of the 32 times he had passed 50.
The problem since then has not been as straightforward as a dearth of runs. In the 16 Tests since his previous Test century in Brisbane he has averaged 28 - not a great return, but by no means a disaster.
It is more that he had lost the ability to build big scores from promising foundations. Since the winter of 2009 he had gone past 50 a commendable 14 times but gone on to a century only once.
"This innings was as good as you'll see, because of the way he made the runs," says Stewart. "He played like a man who knew he was going to get a hundred.
"He played down the ground beautifully, put away the short balls and seldom looked hurried despite his examination from the pace trio of Fidel Edwards, Kemar Roach and Shannon Gabriel.
"This was a good day for Strauss to come good. Playing on his home pitch against a lively but less than threatening West Indies bowling attack enabled him to play with confidence and freedom the longer his innings went on.
"He's always been more comfortable with the ball coming on to him. The slower-paced pitches and examination you receive from spin on subcontinent-style pitches are not his first-choice conditions."
Strauss is a normally a non-demonstrative chap, his equitable nature one of the essential attributes in making him such a successful skipper.
He had looked anxious as he closed in, not so much nervous in the 90s as edgy in the 80s. At Birmingham last summer he had fallen for 87 against India, and leaden-footed wafts against Edwards had bowler wailing and batsman self-remonstrating.
His reaction as the ball raced away past gully for the four that brought up his century spoke volumes - of the relief at ending his drought, of satisfaction having batted so chancelessly for so long, and of pleasure at doing so on his home patch, amongst his own.
"When you put away those runs to go past 100, there is a huge adrenaline rush, a great rush of emotion," says Stewart, who famously scored a century in his 100th Test match 12 summers ago at Old Trafford.
"All the pent-up tension suddenly leaves your body. You can actually be a bit shaky afterwards. You have to consciously take a moment to bring yourself back into focus, to bring your heart-rate down.
"Strauss will have felt that release as soon as he hit the ball. He would have known off the bat that it was going for the all-important four. Everything that has been building up and up in his mind for the last 18 months will all have come out at once.
"Everyone on the dressing-room balcony was on their feet. The whole of Lord's was on their feet. It seemed to go on for hours. It was a wonderful moment in Strauss's career."
In only three of Strauss's 20 Test centuries has he gone on to make 150 plus. With the pitch benign, the West Indies attack wholehearted yet impotent and the weekend forecast for sunshine, he will walk out on Saturday knowing he has a wonderful opportunity to surpass his previous best Test score of 177.
"What he needs to do now is build on this tremendous fighting innings," agrees Stewart. "He needs to go on to get one of those Graham Gooch 'daddy' hundreds, and then to take this form into the rest of the summer - because things will get tougher against South Africa."
With this innings Strauss has joined Kevin Pietersen, Ken Barrington and Graham Gooch on 20 England Test hundreds, just two behind joint record-holders Wally Hammond, Colin Cowdrey and Geoff Boycott.
His current age of 35 was once considered the upper limits for a Test batsman. Two of his recent predecessors as England skipper, Michael Vaughan and Nasser Hussain, had both stepped down at that stage in their careers.
But with Ashes series home and away to follow next year, Strauss is unlikely to be following suit any time soon.
"He has consistently said that he doesn't feel out of form. I don't think he will have worried about being 35," says Stewart, who made his final Test century aged 39.
"Linford Christie said that age was just a number. I prefer to think of it as a unit of experience. If you're 21, you might have more years in the side ahead of you, but you don't have that experience.
"You know when it's time to go. For me it hit me when I was on tour with England in Australia. I got back to the team hotel in Sydney and just knew that I'd had enough.
"Gooch told me that you instinctively know when it's time to retire, and he was right. I just didn't want to tour any more. Others realise they have had enough of the relentless training. Some realise their talent has dropped away just enough to matter.
"You want good players to play for as long as possible. Strauss is nowhere close to being finished."