Pakistan captain Azhar Ali was finally able to crack a smile at the post-match presentations after his side finished the series with a morale-boosting victory to prevent a 5-0 sweep by England. Sarfraz Ahmed and Shoaib Malik laid the foundation during a fourth-wicket stand of 163, after both walked to the crease in the 14th over, as Pakistan pulled off their highest successful ODI chase outside of Asia.
The victory was only Pakistan's second in ODI cricket this year and ended a run of seven consecutive defeats to England in the format. Azhar admitted that there was still work to do, with the side ranked No. 9 in the world - they have slipped to their lowest-ever points tally since the ICC rankings were introduced - and facing a struggle to qualify automatically for the World Cup, but hoped the building blocks were in place to achieve better results in future.
"It's a very happy camp right now because it has been a very tough tour for us in ODIs, getting a victory at the end and finishing on a high is really good, especially chasing 300 is really satisfying," Azhar said. "The series was gone but credit should be given to the boys for the way they played today's game.
"It's a very good feeling right now. The way Sarfraz and Shoaib batted, we lost two wickets in one over and that could have been a turning point of the game but the way they built up the partnership was brilliant.
"Series was gone, losing 4-1 is not a result you want, but the way things were as a team we wanted to finish on a good note and that's what we achieved. There are a lot of things need to be improved, as a team we have to gel together and keep working on it."
Despite a 4-1 defeat, there were areas in which Pakistan could point to improvement. Azhar had praise for Hasan Ali, who made his debut in Ireland and picked up a career-best 4 for 60 in Cardiff, as well as the spinning allrounders, Imad Wasim and Mohammad Nawaz, who could help with Pakistan's balance in one-day cricket. Imad scored 153 runs without being dismissed in the series while Sarfraz, who made 90 to go with a century at Lord's, was the leading run-scorer on either side with 300 runs.
"A few guys we have seen on this tour have really stepped up, they are young guys and if they can play good consistent cricket we are looking at a bright future," Azhar said. "These are very good signs and especially the way Sarfraz batted, this whole tour he's been exceptional. He's been positive and scoring good runs at No. 5, so we've got some good performances but we just need to bind it together and start playing consistent cricket."
Another positive was Azhar ending his own run of poor form, finishing fourth on the run-scorers' list with 208 runs after making 82 at the Ageas Bowl and 80 at Headingley. "It's important to score runs, I'm in the team as a batsman. I was missing runs, I got a few 80s so that will really help my confidence," he said. "Leading by example is very important I will try and keep that form in coming series so that will help the team."
Despite a first limited-overs defeat of the summer, England captain Eoin Morgan was pleased with the team's progress. With a fourth series win out of six secured after three games, England held off a Pakistan fightback at Headingley to win by four wickets after being 72 for 4 but could not go on to claim only their second 5-0 whitewash in ODIs.
"We've been outstanding," Morgan said. One of the things we identified before the Pakistan tour was we want to strive to be as consistent as we can. We don't want to be the best one day and the worst another. Every game throughout the series, we've come out with a hunger and determination to perform at our best.
"Even after winning the series 3-0 and being pushed back chasing 250, I thought we showed a huge amount of character at Leeds. We have shown a lot of strength throughout this series, and more to build on."
England looked set to score more than the 302 for 9 that they managed in Cardiff, having been 219 for 4 with more than 12 overs to go, but lost 5 for 64 to limp through to the finish. That was consistent with their recent philosophy of going as hard as possible with the bat and Morgan was happy with the way they went about the innings after being inserted.
"We lost a lot of momentum by losing wickets in the fashion we did," Morgan said. "We don't really worry about the consequences. We just want to be better at executing the shots we want to play so we can post 350. The fact we fell short and only got 300 isn't a bad thing.
"I thought Jason Roy played well, and Ben Stokes backed up his innings from Leeds again. We're disappointed to lose, but I don't think it was that bad a performance."