Writing after England's excellent win at Edgbaston, I highlighted the inspirational way in which Alastair Cook had played the match. It was as if England fed from his optimism. There were only three days between then and the toss at The Oval, when he had the chance to bowl first on a pitch that looked perfect for the job. He chose to bat, a positive move in most circumstances.
England reached 69 for 1 without undue alarm but were bowled for 328, a score well below expectation, never mind par. During his raft of post-match interviews, Cook pointed out that the pitch was anything but a minefield while at the same time admitting that, in hindsight, he wouldn't mind another crack at the game bowling first.
My first thought is that Edgbaston took more out of England than they, or anyone else, realised. Much of their cricket at The Oval was lacklustre. The catching was atrocious. More often than not, catching is about concentration - assuming the talent is there in the first place. Even Cook, a naturally animated figure, lacked something of his usual brightness. My guess is that he chose to bat on local advice and on stats provided by England's data analyst. Misbah-ul-Haq would have elected to bat too but more on hunch that history. Proof, then, that the old cricket saying "It's a good toss to lose" has traction.
Worryingly, England were quickly derailed by the catch claimed by Yasir Shah at square-leg about half an hour into the first morning's play. The batsman, Alex Hales, took issue with the umpires at the end of the day, wanting to know why they gave it a 'soft' out before referring it to the third umpire. Because they thought it was out, probably.
Then, a tweet from Stuart Broad suggested something untoward from Yasir, which was unfair. Television evidence was inconclusive and the third umpire had no option but to endorse the original decision, which may well have been the right decision. Cricket is a game of rough and smooth. It was odd that England, or some of the England team, were so incensed by that decision. Their reaction did not follow the pattern of the summer, which has been to take rough and smooth as one. Irritable behaviour never serves a sportsman well because it distracts from the job at hand. Confronting umpires is beyond irritable.
Back to Cook for a moment. He also said the defeat was a salutary reminder of how far the team had to go and that talk of being No.1 in the world was clearly premature. By this, he meant that only two of the front five batsmen are pulling their weight; that Moeen is a very handy off-spinner but not up to being the spinner; and that the two frontline seamers looked a little jaded. And if he didn't mean exactly that, the rest of us could see it.
He spoke brightly about the series in general and emphasised the spirit between the teams. The captains are good men, which sure helps. Misbah spoke about the legacy of Hanif Mohammed and, indirectly, dedicated the victory to him. He also cheered the fact that it came on Pakistan's Independence Day.
Misbah is a formidable man, whose batting has improved out of all recognition since he emerged on the Test scene as a late-enough developer 15 years ago. His calmness is a lesson worth absorbing for it reminds us that very little comes from over-reaction. In Urdu, Misbah means the 'lamp' or 'light' and fits Misbah's ability to lead other men with his serious but always considerate nature. Asked if he might retire, he simply said that he would do what is best for the team and for Pakistan cricket at large. Let us hope he sees that he is needed in New Zealand and Australia come November and December. He is 42, so running out of years, but he cleverly manages his limitations in the field and appears each day as if he has slept well.
Pakistan's achievement cannot be understated. The hammering in Manchester and the crumbling at Edgbaston on the final afternoon were hard to take. Perhaps the need to get back on the horse so soon was an advantage. On the one hand, the longer you dwell on failure, the harder it becomes to avoid. On the other, getting away from the game can be a tonic. My guess is that Misbah was eager to immediately go again because he could sense the vulnerabilities in England's game. The quicker he could get at them, the quicker Edgbaston would be forgotten. After all, Pakistan had led by more than hundred on first innings in that match - a position they should not have let slip.
Come The Oval, come Misbah's turn to provide the inspiration - of thought rather than deed this time. He chose not to dwell on frailties, but to pay attention to the strengths that had given Pakistan the advantage in the first place at Edgbaston, and at Lord's. It was around these strengths - strong-willed batting, varied bowling and huge hearts - that his team constructed a famous performance and deserved to level the series.
He stoked Younis Khan, who is an exceptional batsman and who found his best game in the nick of time. He promoted Asad Shafiq, who is a natural batsmen with a wit and charm for the business of making runs. He encouraged Sarfraz Ahmed, who is feisty and tasty - an amalgam of the best of Pakistan's stumper-batsmen - to go harder. He recalled and wound up Wahab Riaz, who is fast and uncomplaining. He chivvied Yasir Shah, who is alive, interactive and involved. These men shone brightest at The Oval.
It is the coach of each team who picks the opposition Man of the Series. Tellingly, Trevor Bayliss picked Misbah-up-Haq. Don't go Misbah, not yet. There are young men who need your light.