The ball was only in the air for a moment. But that moment was long enough to think about Mohammad Amir's comeback, the ageing Pakistan squad, their lack of openers, and Yasir Shah's first real Test outside of Asia. By the time Joe Root was caught off Yasir, it just didn't matter as much. Pakistan were in front, and Yasir took five more wickets, with spin and deception, to keep them there. Yasir was promoted from No. 11 to No. 8 in the space of one innings at Lord's, and when he arrived the game was hot. Pakistan had stuttered to 168 for 6, a quick takedown of the tail and England were favourites. Yasir made 30, but more importantly he was out when the score was 214.
Forget Amir, Wahab Riaz and Yasir; it was Rahat Ali, (cult classic, not bestseller) who put England on the back foot. It was Yasir who kept them there. For most of the final innings his job was the man who made England worry. They were worried about his standard bowling, they were worried about his defensive bowling, and they were worried about footmarks. But he didn't tear through England as he had in the first innings, he just stared them down. It was only when he took Jonny Bairstow, after hours of planning, and the Wahab tidal wave, that he finished England.
Amir was flying through the field, the team were copying Misbah's push ups, and Pakistan had won. And Yasir was No. 1.
There is something wrong with Yasir. The bits aren't working, the repeatable action won't repeat, the ball won't land, the batsman won't fear, and even Misbah looks worried. In the space of a few days Yasir has gone from one of the best bowlers in the world to one of the worst. In one over there are more bad balls than his entire first Test combined. He pulls some down, floats others too much, and at no stage does he seem to understand what has gone wrong.
He is also bowling to England's best two batsmen. They pounce on mistakes, handle the few good balls and keep Yasir feeling completely lost. He ends the first innings at Old Trafford with one wicket, from 54 overs and 213 runs. Six more runs than England managed in the fourth innings at Lord's.
If Lord's was the dream, Old Trafford is the reality. The north has been cruel to Pakistan. Runs for Shan Masood, much like Mohammad Hafeez's promising start in the first Test, mean nothing. Both have tried their best, but neither looks up to this job. And it is tough. England don't lose series in England. Their pride was wounded, and in Manchester it was Pakistan who were wounded.
Yasir struggles with the bat, and when he bowls again, goes wicketless for 53 from his nine overs. His best followed by his worst.
Yasir, and Pakistan, are humiliated.
At Edgbaston Yasir was different, calmer. The ball didn't come out of his hand as perfectly as Lord's, but he was willing to be the guy who keeps it tight. At going at under two-and-a-half an over, he kept England stuck, and the quicks attacked from the other end. Sohail Khan came back from obscurity to bowl until he was exhausted, and until he had five wickets.
Pakistan batted as Yasir bowled, consistently, waited for the mistakes from England. Azhar Ali went big when paired up with Sami Aslam. When Yasir arrived at the crease his side were 60 in front. He and Sarfraz were reunited as they had been in Lord's. A solid hour of batting might have been enough to win the game. But instead they both lost their heads and Yasir was run out. From that moment, England were in complete control of the match.
Yasir's second innings spell was a disaster. He was part of Misbah's plan "Operation dullness", but once England cut loose, he seemed to have no way to stop them, or slow them, he just went back to Old Trafford mode: 43 overs 2 for 172.
When he went back out to bat, it was after the third of Pakistan's collapse of 4 for 1. The game was over, and he was part of the procession, not the resistance.
Yasir, and Pakistan, had blown it.
Pakistan batsmen seem hellbent on making one of their bowlers into a nightwatchman. By The Oval it was Yasir. After a good day with the ball where Wahab had one of those days, they then had to back up the batsmen when Sami Aslam fell. The light got grim, England were keen to make up for a miserable day, and the crowd were looking for any good news. But Yasir did it. And the next day, he went on and ensured that Pakistan owned the first hour before being replaced by Asad Shafiq. When Younis Khan paired with Shafiq, magic happened, and the magic didn't end until Younis was gone.
Not long after Younis was out, Yasir was back bowling. His first ball was short and horrible. A club batsman could have smashed it away. England had already lost Alastair Cook, but a bad start here for Yasir and monster partnership between Root and Alex Hales would make the Pakistanis think of Edgbaston. His next ball wasn't much better. It brought Hales on strike.
Pakistan had drawn the series but the looks of complete jubilation as they did their victory lap showed they believed they were the winners
Then he bowled three top class legspin deliveries; all three landed beautifully, curved and dipped, before spinning and bouncing. Hales played each one nervously. The next ball was straight. Hales missed it: out. The next over Vince played his untrusty cover drive: out.
In Yasir's fifth over he bowled two quick flat legspinners in at off stump. Root played both of them well enough. The third ball looked the same, just another flat legspinner on off stump, but it was the straight one, and Root was out. Pakistan had virtually won the Test. The last wicket to fall, the following day, was Iftikhar Ahmed's, the first wicket to spin that wasn't Yasir's in the series.
They had only drawn the series, but the looks on their faces of complete jubilation as they did their victory lap showed they believed they were the winners.
Yasir became the darling of England after one Test, was destroyed, tried to fight back unsuccessfully and then was good enough to hold his own when it really mattered. He is not the complete package, there is work to be done, but he fights, and he comes back. His story is Pakistan's.
Pakistan drew, but they did way more than that. They started the series by making Yasir No. 1; they ended it with Pakistan as Test cricket's virtual No. 1. For a few days, until there's a result in Colombo - and even an Australia win would leave them level at the top - or India perhaps beat West Indies in the next Test, they will theoretically hold it. It doesn't matter that the ICC won't change the rankings until the end of the India series, or that they won't receive the mace, they know what they have done.
Like Yasir, Pakistan might not yet deserve to be No. 1 for a long time. So far they have won more hearts and minds than away series. But they earned this short moment. The No. 1 crown might be fleeting, but when you've never worn it before, a second feels like a lifetime.
Nothing in Pakistan cricket lasts a lifetime, nothing in Pakistan cricket comes easy. Pakistan are only No. 1 for a moment, but what a moment.