Their 10-wicket thrashing of the hosts in the fourth and final Test at The Oval on Sunday gave Pakistan, currently third in the standings, a chance of climbing to the top of the table.
But for that to happen later this month they need Sri Lanka to win 2-0 or 3-0 at home to Australia, coupled with a 2-0 or 2-1 series win for India away to the West Indies.
Pakistan’s achievement is all the more impressive as they have not played a Test series on home soil since an armed attack on Sri Lanka’s team bus in Lahore in 2009 turned the country into a no-go area for the world’s leading Test nations.
The United Arab Emirates has since become their adopted base. But for all their success in conditions similar to those on home soil, Pakistan often find themselves facing in the dispiriting position of playing before meagre crowds rather than in front of their own passionate supporters.
“This team deserves that (going to number one) for six years of no cricket at home, sometimes people think it’s easy –- the UAE suits us, we win –- but just getting every day away from the country, without family and friends and all games out of Pakistan, it’s really difficult,” Misbah told reporters at The Oval on Sunday after Pakistan won with more than a day to spare.
“It’s mentally tough –- I’ve only seen my mother and sister once in a year, some friends I haven’t seen for three or four years.
“It’s not easy, given those circumstances but the team is playing competitive cricket. “I am really proud of them and this team really deserves to be number one.”
Pakistan’s success at The Oval — which was achieved on the 69th anniversary of the country’s foundation as an independent state — was built on a brilliant 218 by Younis Khan, a hundred from Asad Shafiq and five second-innings wickets for leg-spinner Yasir Shah.
It was an especially impressive result given that after their 75-run win in the first Test at Lord’s — where 42-year-old skipper Misbah made a hundred — Pakistan had suffered heavy defeats, by 330 and 141 runs, at Old Trafford and Edgbaston respectively.
But Misbah was even happier with his side’ conduct on their first tour of England since a controversial trip in 2010 saw often strained Anglo-Pakistani cricket relations sink to an all-time low.
That tour featured the infamous ‘spot-fixing’ Test at Lord’s where then captain Salman Butt, pace bowler Mohammad Amir and Mohammad Asif were all given five-year bans and jail terms for deliberately bowling no-balls.
This year’s series saw Amir make his Test return at Lord’s and he had to deal with the odd crowd shout of “no-ball”. But there were no on-field flare-ups between Misbah’s men and an England side led by Alastair Cook.
“Cricket matches are won and lost but to win audience, people, supporters –- that’s important,” said Misbah, who took over as captain six years ago soon after the spot-fixing scandal.
“This series has been (played) in good spirits, both teams fought well.
“There were no off field issues –- we are happy to conclude on a pleasing note, 2-2, everyone enjoyed it, we made friends on and off the field.”
Cook added: “It’s been a great series to be part of, two good teams playing good cricket and for once with Pakistan and England we’ve just talked about the cricket.”
Amir took 12 wickets in the series at an expensive average of 42 but his figures would have been far better had Pakistan held all the chances the left-arm quick created.
“He did OK –- he was unlucky also, a lot of catches (five) were dropped off his bowling,” said Misbah. “But overall his behaviour and attitude and committment… that helped the Pakistan team.”