Birmingham: England captain Alastair Cook insisted his side had “further to go” after a win over Pakistan at Edgbaston gave them a chance to top the world Test rankings before the end of their home season.
The hosts had it all to do after conceding a first-innings lead of 103 runs at Midlands county Warwickshire’s headquarters.
However, showing admirable resilience, England recovered to win the third Test by 141 runs on Sunday to go 2-1 up with one to play ahead of the series finale at The Oval starting on Thursday.
Victory in south London will see England back on top of the International Cricket Council’s Test rankings for the first time since 2012 provided India do not win the last two Tests of their ongoing series in the West Indies.
Not that Cook was getting carried away by the prospect.
“If we do win at The Oval, I wouldn’t say we are anywhere near our potential,” he said.
“If we become number one there, that’s fantastic — but it will be a bit of an irrelevance, because this side has still got much further to go.
“I thought that might come in a couple of years’ time.”
England were behind in the game until Cook (66) and Alex Hales (54) wiped out the first-innings deficit with their first century stand as a Test-match opening pair.
Joe Root (62) helped consolidate England’s recovery before Jonny Bairstow (83) and Moeen Ali (86 not out) took the match away from Pakistan in Saturday’s last session.
Their sixth-wicket partnership of 152 eventually ended shortly before Cook declared early in Sunday’s play with England 445 for six.
“Everyone responded, and I think this side might have just toughened up a little bit,” said Cook.
Pakistan were left needing an unlikely 343 to win but a draw was a distinct possibility when they reached lunch on 69 for one.
But their hopes of saving the game were all but ended shortly before tea by the loss of their last four recognised batsmen for just one run in 23 balls as England’s pacemen made the most of the slight reverse swing on offer.
“We were never leading it — but then, when we got our chance yesterday (Saturday) afternoon, Mo and ‘Bluey’ (Bairstow) put the pressure on them,” said Cook.
“Then we bowled brilliantly too.”
What pleased Cook most, however, was seeing his side win from an unpromising position.
“This is the first one in a while we’ve been behind and fought back.”
Meanwhile Pakistan captain Misbah-ul-Haq, one of the quartet of batsmen who succumbed in the pre-tea collapse, said: “Until lunch it was easy, nothing happening. But after lunch they got it reversing, and we were not having any clue.”
However, he added: “The good thing is this match is gone.
“We have one game left – we can win it and square the series — that’s what we have to think.”
This was Pakistan’s second heavy defeat in as many matches following their 330-run reverse in the second Test at Old Trafford and again demonstrated how an attack featuring just four frontline bowlers can tire badly in the latter stages.
One consolation was the form of recalled opening batsman Sami Aslam, with the left-hander demonstrating remarkable composure for a 20-year-old during excellent innings of 82 and 70.
“He looks a compact player and has shown great temperament,” said Misbah of Aslam.
“I am happy that he did well against this type of bowling.”