Marking the milestoners
They weren't expected to win yet could, conceivably, have won the series 3-0. They hung in at Multan for last-day steal but from thereon, improved with almost every day of the series. After a year of steady, solid progress, bolstered by the return of Shoaib Akhtar, this series marked a spectacular culmination. Rightly, it should be heralded as a milestone win and from here, as Bob Woolmer said, the only way is up.
A giant: he ended a year as he started in India, at the absolute zenith of his game. At no stage in the series did he look like he would be dismissed. As he has been doing, every one of his 431 runs came when Pakistan needed them most, none more so than his record-breaking second-innings century at Faisalabad, a masterpiece in tailend batting. Batting formed the basis of what Woolmer called his "growing captaincy" and never before has he looked as authoritative as he did over three Tests.
9 Shoaib Akhtar
In 17 wickets and 114 overs, Shoaib Akhtar answered every question - of attitude, commitment, fitness, incisiveness - that had been thrown at him before this series. And that too on benign pitches. He led Pakistan's attack in every way, providing them with breakthroughs - and the big ones - whenever Pakistan needed them and transformed himself into a stodgy tailender. Michael Vaughan called him, unequivocally, the difference between the two sides. And he provided the series its highlight reel: from his Multan yorker to Ashley Giles, his rousing of Faisalabad's match and crowd on the third afternoon and of course his slower balls. Most vividly, his essence was revealed in every one of his 17 trademark celebrations, unburdened, free, arms outstretched, truly joyous. At 30, it was a fascinating renaissance.
8 Mohammad Yousuf
After the abomination at Multan, this threatened to be another middling contribution. But as much for the quantity of runs he scored as for the manner and circumstances in which he scored, he should be celebrated. At Faisalabad he steadied Pakistan only to be cut short by a dubious decision. But when Pakistan needed him most, in Lahore at 12 for 2, he produced a defining innings; it was a career-best but for the way he led the batting, in Inzamam's absence, he furthered his case exponentially as Inzamam's successor. Marginally second as Pakistan's most compelling reformation of the series.
8 Danish Kaneria
Woolmer called him one of the best bowlers in the world today, and coming on a year of unparalleled success, this series proved it. The last days of Multan and Faisalabad saw him in his element; toying, deceiving, plotting and, to silence his critics, prompting spectacularly cheap collapses. As much as Shoaib's slower ball, Kaneria's Multan googly to Shaun Udal and his Lahori one to Andrew Flintoff gave the series its highlights. In his troubles at Faisalabad, with appealing, with Umpire Hair and running onto the pitch, he threatened to become anonymous but he fought back, as he forever will, in Lahore. Officially, he is a matchwinner now and would have topped the recognition it with a hat-trick but for Hair.
8 Rana Naved-ul-Hasan
An important series because of his poor Test record, within seven overs of his recall at Faisalabad, Rana broke through literally and figuratively, with two top order wickets. He almost won the match in the second with three more wickets but in every ball he bowled, every trick he tried, every variation he bowled, every batsmen he stopped from settling, every diving stop he made, every clap of encouragement, every run he made, there was pure endeavour. Was called, intuitively, by Scyld Berry as an upmarket Heath Streak, but by dint of playing on Pakistani pitches, he has a larger bag of tricks. Subtly, to lesser attention, his breakthrough in this series was as important as any for Pakistan.
7 Salman Butt
With his contribution here, he has halved Pakistan's opening problem. Although he occasionally gave in to his dash and flashed outside off, he will be remembered here for the gumption of his batting. Forsaking the bravado that has marked him, he was mostly circumspect, avoiding bouncers and tempters outside off-stump. The wristy scoops and flicks were there still, but revealed only when necessary. His fielding was a concern and he dropped a howler at Faisalabad.
7 Kamran Akmal
It threatened to be a slump after uncertain displays in Multan and a poor one in Faisalabad. But he made up for it with two magnificently athletic pouches in Lahore and an improved performance. His batting was solid if often careless but with his magnificent series-finishing century, he again suggested, that at no.7, Pakistan have genuine depth in their middle order.
7 Shahid Afridi
Afridi is as Afridi does. He was hero and villain, together, at Faisalabad. First he transformed a middling total into an imposing one and then, with four wickets, kept Pakistan in the hunt. It wasn't so much his duck in the second innings that changed his role as his pirouetting on the pitch and subsequent ban. Possibly deserved more than three matches but will be missed in the ODIs.
6 Shoaib Malik
Not enough evidence to suggest that he is the immediate answer to Pakistan's opening conundrum. There is some solace in the fact that he did at least get starts but on pitches other than the subcontinent, he could struggle. His off-breaks provided relief to both his teammates and the English batsmen and three wickets in Lahore were gift-wrapped, early Christmas presents from the opposition. Now faces a fight, again, with his action under the scanner.
6 Younis Khan
After a starry year, came down to earth. Regressed to his old, disturbing habit of getting out when well set and untroubled but when given the chance to lead offered again, evidence of a refreshing outlook to leadership. Remains a calming number three.
6 Mohammad Sami
Looked rusty and ineffective for large swathes of the series but he had come back from a long-term injury. Bowled a hostile early spell on the final day in Multan, taking two key wickets and chipped in with a few at Lahore. But the emergence of Mohammad Asif and return of Umar Gul means he might no longer be an automatic selection.
5 Shabbir Ahmed
A typically understated performance in Multan produced typically effective results with five wickets. But all that is now forgotten and with serious problems over his action again, tragically his future is, to put it mildly, uncertain.
4 Hasan Raza
Looked out of place in Multan. He improved in Lahore but a loose dismissal and low score on a pitch on which the middle order hammered runs, and with Afridi and Asim Kamal in the frame, this could be his last opportunity for some time.
4 Asim Kamal
One innings, and that too at an unaccustomed number three, and one failure. Unlucky to be dropped and only play one Test but his unflappability means he remains in the frame of the lower-middle order.
Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor of Cricinfo