England showed captain Alastair Cook a new resilience to beat Pakistan at Edgbaston, and put themselves in with a chance of topping the world Test rankings this summer.
Cook’s men appeared washed up after two days of the third Investec Test, and conceded a three-figure first-innings deficit.
But England battled back to prevail by 141 runs and can therefore return to the top of the International Cricket Council table for the first time since 2012 by beating Pakistan again next week – as long as India do not win the final two Tests of their series in the West Indies.
Cook is not about to get too worked up about that prospect just yet. He believes England are on an upward curve, but expected world domination to have to wait a couple more years yet.
In the present, however, he was impressed that they did not panic when – to many eyes – Pakistan had taken control in Birmingham.
All-rounder Moeen Ali was named man of the match, but any one of at least three others might have won that accolade in a match containing seven England half-centuries.
Each of their frontline bowlers took at least two wickets as Pakistan were bowled out for 201 on the fifth evening.
An unassailable 2-1 lead, with one Test remaining, is therefore an especially gratifying outcome for Cook.
“It’s right up there...I was really proud of the way we hung in there all game,” he said.
“We were never leading it – but then, when we got our chance yesterday afternoon, Mo and ‘Bluey’ [Jonny Bairstow] put the pressure on them. Then we bowled brilliantly too.”
It proved to Cook that England can still be successful, even if they do not take charge from the outset.
“I just think we’ve been very good when we’ve been ahead – once we’ve got ahead we’ve managed to dominate sides,” he added. “This is the first one in a while we’ve been behind and fought back.
“I saw the guys really determined to do what we’d spoken about, and that’s pleasing as a captain.”
As for impending number one status, Cook will be prepared to play the long game again if necessary.
“If we become number one at The Oval, that’s fantastic – but it will be a bit of an irrelevance, because this side has still got much further to go,” he said.
“If we do win there, I wouldn’t say we are anywhere near our potential.”
Cook is confident England are capable of further self-improvement. “Everyone will be in the dressing-room feeling proud to be part of the team, and feeling like they contributed,” said the captain.
“That doesn’t always happen. In an absolute ideal world, I thought there were hundreds left out there. But everyone responded, and I think this side might have just toughened up a little bit. It was hard – we weren’t scoring any runs, but everyone dug in.”
He was never quite so concerned as many others about England’s mid-match plight – reasoning this was a contest in which the first and fourth innings were always likely to be toughest and, of course, were evenly spread between the two teams. “I don’t think we were in quite as much trouble as everyone was asking us about,” he said.
He identified only a hint of reverse-swing to help England’s seamers – and Moeen – take all 10 wickets in 70.5 overs, despite a fine second half-century of the match from Sami Aslam (70).
But Cook’s opposite number Misbah-ul-Haq saw things differently. “The ball started ‘reversing’ after lunch,” he said. “We were trying to cope with it, but could not handle it.
“Until lunch it was easy, nothing happening. But after lunch they got it reversing, and we were not having any clue.”