The first delivery Ross Taylor faced in test cricket was delivered to him at Wanderers in Johannesburg by South African great Makhaya Ntini. The ball spat off a length, smashing him in the shoulder.
It would have hurt a lot more if relief hadn't been such an effective painkiller.
"Hey rookie, welcome to test cricket," someone chirped behind him. It could have been wicketkeeper Mark Boucher, or any one of the slips and gully cordon that contained Graeme Smith, Jacques Kallis, AB de Villiers and Herschelle Gibbs. They all had some words of advice.
"It didn't bother me. I was just stoked that I didn't get a golden duck."
Back then, if you told the kid from Masterton that he'd face another 11,944 balls in test cricket he'd have laughed you out of the room. Now he just jokes "that I'd hate to think how many have hit my pads".
Taylor is not driven by numbers, but he is a goal-setter. Some things he can remember with crystal clarity, like that first delivery, like taking guard in his second test among the bloodstains left by Craig Cumming when he was hit in the face by Dale Steyn.
He can remember the most unplayable ball he faced, also in South Africa, a worm-burner from Steyn that hit his ankle right in front of the stumps in 2016. He walked off with zero next to his name, grinning like a Cheshire cat at the absurdity of it all.
"Probably not a great look," he says.
Other things he can't recall at all, such as his first four (a drive off Andre Nel that mid-off misfielded), or his first six (a flat, pulled six over square leg off James Anderson at Old Trafford on his way to his second test century in his seventh test).
And why should he? He's only gone and hit 870 fours and 50 sixes subsequent to those first ones (and two fielder-assisted fives).
Taylor has compiled some extraordinary numbers during his test career. Here's a few of the most cherished.
99: The amount of tests he has played. This week he will become the fourth New Zealander to play 100 tests after Daniel Vettori (112), Fleming (111) and McCullum (101). As an example of the relative paucity of test cricket New Zealand plays, England's Alastair Cook debuted a year before Taylor and retired in 2018 having played 161 tests.
"It's a bit of a strange one," Taylor says. "I guess I won't know how it feels until I walk out to play it but a lot of people have been talking about it. I guess when the Bangladesh test got cancelled because of the mosque shooting, I knew I'd be playing it at home."
Friends and family have got in touch to say they'll be coming, including many who influenced him as a youngster in the Wairarapa. When Taylor mapped out his summer he had circled the Boxing Day Test as the one to cherish, now he's beginning to understand how much this means to the people close to him.
7174: The runs he has scored in test cricket. He became the second New Zealander to pass 7000 test runs behind Fleming (7172) and limped past the left-hander's aggregate during the recent horror tour of Australia.
Going past Fleming, who was captain when Taylor debuted, meant a lot to him, but he has a fatter number on his mind now.
"I'd like to get to 8000 test runs," he says. "That'd be nice."
19: His test centuries. Second only to Williamson (21), Taylor checked off a big goal when he went past Martin Crowe's 17 tons. A nice round 20 is the next target and there is probably a part of him that would love to catch Williamson, although the younger man will likely end up with several more by the time he hangs them up.
"I'd like to get a few more, but I don't have an end number in mind," Taylor says. "I got a nice call from John Wright who told me he'd set a goal of 12 test centuries and that's what he ended with. He told me that he wished he hadn't set a target and had pushed on for more."
It was gratifying to catch and then pass his mentor Crowe's tally. It was the elegant right-hander who had encouraged him to set statistical goals.
"He was a big believer in goals, not to drive you when you were doing well, but you give you a push when things were just meandering along. Goals can help get you back on track."
46.28: His test average, which is excellent by international standards and exceptional for New Zealand. Of his countrymen to score at least 1000 test runs, only Williamson (51.44) has a higher average, though John F. Reid retired with his number at 46.28. Taylor's average has held firm. It hasn't dipped below 40 since November 2009 and has never reached higher than 48.66.
Again, Crowe can take some of the credit here. Averages can be deceptive but one this high over such a long period of time speaks to a player who knows his game.
"I had a very good one-day record as a domestic player. That was my strength. I rang Martin Crowe because I wanted to be a test cricketer. I wanted to be a good test cricketer."
145: His catches, the vast majority coming at first slip, which also happened to be the primary staging post of the only man to take more than him – Fleming (171). He could get there… maybe, if an awful lot of nicks come his way.
"Our bowlers bowl too straight now," he jokes. "It's all bowleds and LBWs."
Catches are not so much a goal as a means to keeping bowlers happy.
"I'm not thinking of a number; I'm just thinking I don't want to drop one."
Taylor has no need to overthink things now, as the sand slips a little bit quicker through the hourglass of his career.
He turns 36 next month. He wears the veteran status well because at heart, and although the outrageous shot-making might tend to contradict it, Taylor has always been an old-school type of cricketer.
He's not self-taught, but he has become self-reliant.
Former Central Districts stalwart Dermot Payton spent hours during bitter Wairarapa winter nights standing on a chair feeding balls into a bowling machine, hoping the Samoan kid at the crease wouldn't ping straight drives back at him. He marveled at Taylor's timing at such a young age, but detected fragility. When Crowe first saw him bat, he thought his future protégé was a "dirty slogger" who would struggle to forge a successful first-class career, let alone test.
What neither of those keen judges could have known then was that Taylor had a way of figuring stuff out for himself. It is a trait that has never left him.
He found ways to score runs even when that most important of batsman's senses, sight, was failing him. The 290 he scored at the WACA was achieved with a pesky growth – a pterygium – in his eye. It wasn't until he had surgery to remove it that he realised what he'd been missing, including the ability to detect swing from the bowler's hand and to be able to get a focus on the ball under lights.
We've never had a player quite like Taylor and maybe that's why his superstar status flickers when others flamed. He doesn't possess the technical mastery of Williamson or the elegance of Fleming; he has never physically dominated the crease like Crowe.
While the early years of his career were punctuated by booming cover drives and imperious flicks off his pads, the latter years have seen more prosaic forms of run-gathering. Pretty is no longer a word that springs to mind when assessing Taylor.
If he has a signature shot in test cricket (we all know the slog sweep remains a staple of his limited overs game) it is the cut. There is nobody better at cutting the ball from a fourth stump line. He doesn't need width and he doesn't even need length.
While the modern trend is to play late and 'doink' balls close to off stump on the head to divert them to third man, Taylor uses his fast hands to slash the ball past point.
"I've never been a great leaver of the ball," Taylor explains. "I've always wanted to play the ball. It's a hockey shot in a way. It's half a cut, half a slap shot. It's my way of putting pressure back on the bowler. It doesn't always work. It's got me out a couple of times and probably looks a bit lucky at other times."
There's nothing fortunate about Taylor's test numbers. You don't get to face 11945 balls – each one a micro-drama – by being lucky.
As he sets sail for 8000 runs and the test appearances record, there should be many more balls to come.
They're the small dots that make up the big picture.