Pakistan find their mojo
It had been feared that Pakistan might stumble in what appeared to be a simple chase today, and that's just what happened. Pakistan started with a swagger, abruptly plunged into a brief freefall, followed by a phase of uncertainty where the batsmen acted as if all roads to victory had been closed, before bursting into life in the nick of time to sneak onto the victory podium.
In the end, though, Pakistan not only won the match, they won every one of the four days at The Oval. Before this series Andrew Strauss suggested, correctly, that inconsistency from one session to the next was Pakistan's weakness in Test cricket. If this win has taught Pakistan anything, it is the importance of retaining focus for every session in a Test; keeping a poker face in tense situations, and patiently drilling the opponent's door open with persistence and cunning. Many youngsters in Pakistan cricket, primarily the batsmen, are tempted by Twenty20 cricket. They need to realise that if Twenty20 is a brash western then Test cricket is a Russian novel, offering rich rewards only to those willing to invest plenty of time and concentration.
From the first day of this Test, Pakistan set about correcting their myriad mistakes over the summer: they fielded vigorously, Kamran Akmal atoned for most of his mistakes by taking catches with more assurance and confidence (holding one less than the record nine he held at Kingston in 2005). The batsmen showed more resolve and positive intent, resulting in more partnerships than at any point on the tour and allowing the tourists to log 300 in an innings for the first time in two months.
Pakisan's success was not incidental. It was well planned. The coaching think tank of Waqar Younis, Ijaz Ahmed and Aaqib Javed persuaded Butt to drop one rung in the batting ladder to introduce a right/left opening combination in Yasir Hameed and Imran Farhat. Hameed's aggressive knock in the first innings instilled a belief that both the pitch and bowlers could be countered with the right will.
Of course, it helped that Mohammad Yousf re-discovered his mojo almost straight away on return to Test cricket after his controversial retirement earlier in the year. His presence gave Pakistan stability. His experience lent direction to the other batsmen. He made batting easy rather than burdensome. The youngsters flocked to him in the dressing room and on the pitch for enlightenment. A fine example was Azhar Ali, the main architect behind Pakistan's taking of a first-innings lead for the first time on the tour, who was unfortunate to miss out on a maiden century in his fifth Test. He took over the baton from Yousuf and made sure Pakistan did not collapse.
On the second afternoon, with the new ball just a few overs away Umar Akmal launched a furious attack that brought a valuable 38 runs to dominate the 56-run stand with Azhar for the sixth wicket. Then Azhar stitched together a 38-run stand with No. 11 Mohammad Asif to bolster the lead. Such minor alliances were the bricks that built Pakistan's momentum and frustrated England.
Today as the sun pushed its way past the corrugated iron sheet of cloud to smile on the tourists, Farhat and Butt set about chasing the small target fervently in front of another noisy and partisan crowd. The two southpaws gathered singles feverishly, their feet and their bats moving automatically into the right positions. Perhaps, that is what a positive mind does. That is what the sensing of victory does.
But Pakistan need to thank another man for this momentous victory. Saeed Ajmal may already have established himself as Pakistan's premier spinner, pushing aside the woefully out-of-form Danish Kaneria. Importantly, he has tormented the English batsmen with his doosra, which Butt admitted was difficult even for the Pakistanis to pick because Ajmal delivers his straighter one and the other 'un with the same hand action.
At Edgbaston he made an immediate impact with a five-for in England's first innings. Here, he completed a match haul of five wickets, with four vital scalps in England's second innings as he and Mohammad Amir combined to all but bundle England out in the final session yesterday. Graeme Swann is clearly the best spinner in the world but on present form Ajmal is not far behind.
Suddenly, Pakistan have more than one matchwinner in the bowling department, with Asif and Amir joined by Ajmal and Wahab Riaz, the left-arm quick who bagged five wickets on debut. Incredibly, what seemed to be a summer of growing discontent for Pakistan on the eve of the third Test has now transformed into a summer of hope.
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at Cricinfo