England v West Indies, 1st Test, Lord's, 2nd day May 18, 2012

Strauss smiles, Sammy suffers

While England's captain restated his authority as a player, his West Indies counterpart endured a difficult day

The leap of joy and roar of satisfaction that Andrew Strauss gave upon reaching his century said it all: this was a drowning man finding land; a starving man finding food. Usually a reserved, modest fellow, Strauss allowed himself a prolonged celebration. It spoke volumes.

The Lord's crowd is invariably generous. But there was real warmth in their lengthy ovation. They knew how important this innings was to England's captain. They were not just delighted for Strauss. They were relieved.

He needed this innings. While he was not in imminent danger of losing his place, the pressure was building. His authority as captain was unquestioned, but he knew his authority as a player was being compromised. It had been 18 months and 26 innings since his last Test century. His average in the last year had been 26. With a tough series anticipated against South Africa, he knew - everyone knew - that he needed to demonstrate that he was still one of the best six batsmen in England.

This innings - even though it is the 20th Test century of his nine-year career - will not completely silence the critics. And nor should it. Consistency remains the requirement and Strauss still only has two centuries in his last 51 Test innings. But this innings was a substantial step in the right direction. He has proved to himself that he can still cut it at this level. He has proved to himself that he can still contribute for his team.

"Having not scored a hundred for a while, there was a bit of pressure on me to go out there some runs for the lads," Strauss said afterwards. "The last 15 runs or so was quite hard work mentally as I haven't been there for a while. It was a great feeling of relief to finally get those three figures. It was a really special moment and a great ovation. It was one of the more special hundreds I've scored.

"I'm employed to get runs for the team and my output hasn't been as high as I would have liked in the last 12 months or so. It felt like one of the more special innings. It was quite hard work. I suppose mentally it's a bit tougher when you are searching for a hundred and you haven't scored one recently.

"It doesn't change anything. I've still got to go out and score runs the next time I bat. I've still got to do my job as captain. Nothing changes. The reality of international sport is that you are under the microscope and you have to perform day in, day out."

Strauss has been under pressure before. In March 2008 he went into the final innings of England's tour of New Zealand knowing that the axe was hovering. Had he failed, his Test career would almost certainly have ended. He denied that this innings was as vital from a personal perspective and also admitted that he had enjoyed some fortune, not least on 95 when he was dropped off a no-ball. "At moments like that you think 'someone up there is looking after me,'" he smiled.

"In Napier I was standing right on the edge of a precipice," he said. "I needed to get runs in that game or it was P45 time. I didn't think I was in that situation today. The truth of the matter is I've been lucky enough to have 20 good days in about nine years. Every single hundred you score is very special."

It is worth reflecting, too, on the stability that is now taken for granted in England's selection process. It was not always like this. There was a time when England used four captains in a summer. There was a time when a team-mate's failure was seen as an opportunity for the individual. The reaction of Kevin Pietersen, the man Strauss replaced as captain of this side and the genuinely ecstatic non-striker when Strauss reached three figures, showed those days are long gone. The team - the land, even - will rejoice in this innings.

This was a chastening day for West Indies. Shannon Gabriel's first ball dismissal meant they had lost their last six wickets for 62 runs and underlined the impression that they have a tail like a diplodocus. More pertinently, in conditions where England's quicks found seam and swing movement, West Indies' bowlers gained little purchase and did not quite have the control to maintain pressure throughout. They bowled as many no-balls as maidens.

"Trying to beat the likes of Strauss, Cook and Trott through attrition alone is like trying to erode Everest with a piece of sandpaper"

There were passages of play when they bowled well. Kemar Roach beat the bat several times and, when he struck Pietersen on the arm with a short ball, showed what might be on a quicker wicket. Darren Sammy, too, might have had Trott given out leg-before and should have had him out caught behind if only West Indies had utilised a review. Gabriel looks to be an exciting prospect.

But it is almost impossible to balance this attack. With Sammy filling the role of third or fourth seamer, it means there is little room for the spin of Shane Shillingford. West Indies could have done with that variation. True, they could have picked Shillingford ahead of Gabriel, but that would have increased the burden upon Fidel Edwards - whose first three spells were of four, three and then only two overs - who does not look fit enough to cope. Gabriel, too, for all his promise and aggression, did not make a delivery leave the right hander or come back at the left. It is a skill he will need to require if he is to flourish at this level.

Without an ability to coax movement from this sluggish surface that resulted in a day of cricket the antithesis of the IPL, West Indies were reliant on a more attritional approach. But while Pakistan showed that England can be undone by flair, trying to beat the likes of Strauss, Alastair Cook and Jonathan Trott through attrition alone is like trying to erode Everest with a piece of sandpaper. It does not help that West Indies' fielding remains unreliable, either.

Doubts remain over Sammy's worth at this level. For all his positivity and obvious leadership qualities, his bowling does not quite have the requisite bite or control to justify his selection as a player. He produced three fine overs immediately after lunch that saw Strauss bogged down for 40 minutes. But Sammy's next two overs, full of short or wayward deliveries, cost 20 and the pressure was released.

If captaincy was all about character Nelson Mandela would have opened the batting for South Africa and Mother Teresa the bowling for India. It is about skill and talent, too. And while one captain proved himself on the second day at Lord's, another was exposed.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo