Pakistan rewarded for smart rebuilding
Perhaps the darkest hour really is just before the dawn. By the end of Pakistan's tour to England in 2010, the team's reputation was in shreds. Beaten on the field and discredited off it, it was surely the lowest ebb in the history of Pakistan cricket.
From the rubble of that episode, however, a new Pakistan has emerged. A Pakistan that is no longer hindered by infighting or individual agendas. A Pakistan that, in the tough times, pulls together rather than splitting apart. A Pakistan team rather than a collection of talented individuals.
If the events of 2010 had not occurred, it is quite possible that either or both Abdur Rehman and Saeed Ajmal, the undisputed stars of this series, would have been unable to force their way into this team.
It is quite possible that Misbah-ul-Haq, a man who had been left out of a preliminary 35-man squad that year, would not be in this team, let alone the captain. It is quite possible that younger players such as Azhar Ali, Adnan Akmal and Asad Shafiq would have been unable to enjoy a prolonged opportunity to establish themselves in this team. It is quite possible that Younis Khan, a batsman whose class shone out in this third Test, would have drifted out of the international game having been banned by the PCB after allegations that he had been partially responsible for infighting within the team. It is quite possible that Umar Gul, whose four-wicket burst on the last afternoon was overdue reward for his outstanding work throughout the series, would have been squeezed out of the side. And it is quite possible that Ijaz Butt might still be chairman of the PCB.
Pakistan cricket could have imploded. They could have bemoaned their ill-fortune and become embroiled in regrets and recriminations.
Instead they rebuilt. They took a long, hard look at themselves and decided that change was necessary. They appointed an experienced captain, they kept faith with a few youngsters who they believe can enjoy a long future in international cricket and they identified a group of players who showed the skill and character to combine as a team when times grew tough.
The appointment of Misbah as captain, in particular, was wise. He is not a flamboyant man, nor a great orator or particularly charismatic. And he is a worthy rather than great batsman.
But Pakistan have had plenty of charismatic captains. Plenty who have been blessed with more natural ability. Plenty who have looked good in front of the camera. It did not always serve them well.
Misbah is not that sort. He is not much interested in the limelight or the glamour. Or soundbites or flash innings. He is interested in developing a winning culture and nurturing a team spirit that can bring pride back to Pakistan cricket. He is interested in winning, not the trappings of success.
His calm leadership has served Pakistan well. They started with a drawn series against South Africa - no mean feat - before Misbah lead them to wins over New Zealand, Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, with just the aberration of a drawn series against West Indies as the only setback. Now they have completed the fifth series (in three-match series or more) clean sweep in their history. Not only that, but they have done it against the No. 1 Test ranked side. In this game they also illustrated their unity and tenacious spirit by becoming just the sixth side in history to win a Test having been bowled out for under 100 in the first innings of a match and the first to do so since 1907.
And remember: all these matches are away from home. Due to security concerns, Pakistan remain unable to play in their own country. It remains remarkable that the PCB are thinking of appointing a new coach, Dav Whatmore, in replace of the interim, Mohsin Khan. What more could they have asked of Mohsin?
It will not always be like this for Pakistan. They will face sterner tests in less helpful conditions and results may not always go their way. But they have the foundations of something quite special at the moment. Whatever happens, they need to retain faith in the people and policies that have brought them so far, so fast.
Now let us reflect for a moment on what might have been from an England perspective. Let us imagine that, instead of just suffering a bruise, Ian Bell's arm had been broken when he was struck by a throw-down from Graham Gooch just prior to this series. He would have been sent home and missed the mauling that he and his team have just received. Bell's series record - just 51 runs at an average of 8.5 - just might prove career threatening.
But had he been absent, you can bet that, right now, he would be lauded as the potential saviour of English cricket. In his absence, his reputation as a great player of spin would have risen sharply. It would, we now know, have been nonsense.
Bell's experience has been a microcosm of England's in this series. Approaching it with a glowing reputation, he and his team have received the rudest of awakenings. They may remain, according to the rankings, the No. 1 Test side in the world, but the title has a hollow sound now. Besides, if South Africa defeat New Zealand by a 3-0 margin, they will have usurped them.
England's travails against spin are clear to see. Ajmal's doosra remained a mystery to them; Rehman's control complete. Together the pair claimed 43 wickets in the series at an average of 15.6 apiece. They bowled beautifully.
But it is the self harm that will smart most from an England perspective. Even on the last day of the series several England batsmen played a large role in their own downfall: Alastair Cook, playing across the line; Jonathan Trott, top edging a desperate sweep; Kevin Pietersen, punished for a fault in his technique and, most frustratingly, Stuart Broad, who picked out the fielder at long off with an obliging drive.
Batting against opposition of this quality is difficult enough without such self-inflicted damage. Yet perhaps self-inflicted is the wrong phrase. It does not adequately convey the pressure applied by Pakistan, or the skill of their bowlers to maintain that pressure, or the ability of their captain to ensure his team remained disciplined and patient.
But England could have made Pakistan fight harder for their wickets. They showed some improvement from the first Test to the third, but their much-vaunted middle-order - Bell, Pietersen (who averaged 11.16) and Eoin Morgan (who averaged 13.66) - must take much of the responsibility for this, the seventh series whitewash in England's Test history. It is inevitable that there will be calls for players to be dropped.
England can learn from Pakistan's approach. They can learn from the technique and temperament shown here by Azhar, who resisted for almost nine hours to set up this victory. They can learn from the determination and patience shown by Misbah in Abu Dhabi and the footwork and skill of Younis in this Test. They can learn, most of all, the balance between attack and defence and the need for calm and confidence. But if the tourists blame the DRS, unusual bowling actions, or simply ill fortune, they will, in the long term, delay their progress.
Pakistan rebuilt from a severe setback in 2010. Now it is England's turn.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo