There is something particularly unique about being the first person in a game to scratch your guard in the turf in front of the wickets.
It's almost an honour to do so, perhaps compensation for taking on the bowlers when they are at their best and conditions suit them most.
Looking round, you invariably see several slipsmen, gullies and short legs. The bowler might be bowling a couple of looseners from the start of his run-up, sometimes, it seems, on the horizon. The umpire calls 'play' and the players crouch, squat, or start to walk in.
At this point, several things are usually going on inside my head. First, is the ignominious possibility of being out first ball. This is the worst-case scenario. Having visualised the various opening possibilities the day before, having completed a strenuous warmup and having received the good wishes of your colleagues as you leave the changing room, to return having accomplished none of your goals is galling, humiliating and as anticlimactic as it gets.
The second thing is usually something technical: a trigger movement I'll do to get some rhythm as the bowler is about to release the ball. This can change, and often does, depending on a host of factors, from speed of the bowler to the amount of swing there might be.
By this stage, the bowler might be five yards or so from the umpire and the trusted mantra takes over - watch the ball. This has been repeated so many times, in so many situations, that the words almost lose their individual shape and take on a non-verbal form, the spirit of the multiple iterations bathing the cricket consciousness. It is a common lament of coaches that a player did not watch the ball, but from my experience it's not through lack of endeavour.
It is scientific fact that there is not enough time against the fastest bowlers - Mohammad Sami, who was probably the fastest I faced last season, is a good example - to see the ball, evaluate and predict its likely trajectory, initiate the appropriate muscular response, and then carry out that movement.
We rely on visual cues, processed subconsciously, such as subtle differences in action, and previous experience, to predict the likely course of the delivery. For example, if a swing bowler appears to be attempting to get sideways on, one can instinctively deduce that he is aiming to swing the ball away from the bat.
This is one of the unique challenges of opening the batting. Up to this point, no one has seen a ball bowled. The amount of swing, how quick the bowler is bowling, how the pitch is playing, are all unknowns.
The opening batsman is a guinea pig. He stands there, watching the ball on its progress down the wicket without time to make a decision and no prior knowledge of what the ball may do off the wicket (if, by some stroke of fortune, he manages to see the ball pitching in the first place).
It is during these initial stages that technique, while important, is not the determining factor in success or failure. An error of judgment in respect of the line and length of the ball, or the amount it has swung, or the pace off the wicket, is almost inevitable.
What is important at this point, is the ability to survive the ball through any means available and that can lead to some unusual-looking shots, accompanied by the usual soundtrack with the bowler on lead vocals, bellowing in disbelief, and the slip cordon providing the backing track with their howls of derision.
Coming through this trial bestows a real sense of achievement. I feel a real affinity with my opening partner, much more so than when I was batting at three. I take pride in forming a solid, reliable and match-winning combination at the start of the innings. This is not restricted to me, but to anyone who opens the batting. It provides the opportunity to shape the game, to exert control, and then to dominate the opposition.
I am envious of those partnerships which become like bedrock, first on the team sheet, unthinkable to break up. I think all openers want to be part of such a duo, to leave a legacy of which to be proud.