There are many positives for England to take out of yesterday's 167-run victory over Pakistan and the first home series win in 24 years against these proud opponents, but the most encouraging were the displays of Sajid Mahmood and Monty Panesar, the side's next generation of bowlers.
The pair of British-born Asians shared seven wickets as Pakistan were dismissed for 155 on the final day of the third Test, a performance that gave England an unassailable 2-0 lead in the four-match series. Stephen Harmison and Matthew Hoggard huffed and puffed but it was Mahmood, with career-best figures of 4 for 22, and Panesar, who enhanced his reputation of being one of the finest spin bowlers in the world by taking 3 for 39, that ripped out Pakistan's highly rated batting order when the pressure was on.
England were aided by a couple of unnecessary run-outs, to bring Pakistan's tally in the match to four, but they deserved their good fortune after playing superior cricket throughout the match and, indeed, the series. The victory ensures England will travel to Australia to defend the Ashes in a positive frame of mind.
"It feels pretty special," said Andrew Strauss, on his first series victory as England captain. "We knew that if we did everything right today we had a good chance of winning but that does not mean you expect it to happen. The guys had to show a lot of discipline and patience and, in the end, we got what we deserved.
"I think the guys have been outstanding for the last three Test matches but in a close-fought game like this it comes down to your ability to handle pressure, and in that regard the boys have done very well. It is even more satisfying because we have had players out. Fred [Andrew Flintoff] leaves a big hole in the team and we knew all 11 of us had to stand up and be counted in this series. They have all performed and our fielding has been spot on too."
Pakistan, who needed to achieve the highest successful run chase in their history to win the match, were never realistically in with a chance. Younis Khan scored a stylish 41 and Inzamam-ul-Haq, Pakistan's enigmatic captain, struck a defiant 37, but both were ultimately undone by the excellence of Panesar.
England's batting has been majestic in this series. Ian Bell (three), Andrew Strauss (two), Alastair Cook (two), Paul Collingwood and Kevin Pietersen (one apiece) have shared nine centuries, but teams do not win Tests if they are unable to take 20 wickets. Pakistan's attack, without its three main fast bowlers, has been impotent but, in Harmison, Panesar and Mahmood, England have had three bowlers that have changed the course of games.
In Harmison, Hoggard, Flintoff, Simon Jones and Ashley Giles, England have been able to call on such bowlers for over two years. They have been pivotal figures in the renaissance of English cricket, but they are not getting any younger and their injury records are unlikely to improve. With this in mind it is crucial for England to find two or three younger models who possess the ability to bowl out good batting sides.
Panesar was once again outstanding, producing the best figures by an England spinner at Headingley since John Emburey took 5 for 82 against Australia in 1985.
The 24-year-old was always assured of his place here, but there was debate over who out of Mahmood and Jonathan Lewis should play. Mahmood failed to take a wicket at Old Trafford and looked fairly unimpressive in Pakistan's first innings, but the 24-year-old highlighted his potential yesterday with a fiery opening spell that claimed the scalps of Faisal Iqbal and Kamran Akmal. Neither batsman could blame the pitch, which played pretty true throughout the Test, and Mahmood's pace appeared to unsettle Pakistan's batsmen.
England were made to wait until the ninth over of the day for their first wicket and it was Hoggard who claimed it. Salman Butt had driven the laboured looking Hoggard for four boundaries in his initial three overs, but the local boy got his man when a loose drive was edged to Marcus Trescothick at first slip.
Harmison and Hoggard were replaced after the drinks break by Panesar and Mahmood, and four wickets fell for 36 runs in the hour before lunch. Taufeeq Umar never looked settled and his patience broke in Panesar's third over when he bottom-edged a sweep on to his pad. Cook took a neat catch at silly mid-off and the tourists were 52 for 2.
With Inzamam's absence from the field on Monday forcing him to bat at No 7, England knew that if they could break the partnership of Younis and Mohammad Yousuf, who put on 363 together in the first innings, the momentum would remain with them. Pakistan's running between the wickets is always interesting and when Yousuf looked to take on the speed and agility of Collingwood in the gully there was only one winner, provided he hit the stumps. Collingwood did just that and Yousuf had to make the long despondent walk back to the dressing-room.
Iqbal fell four overs later when he was well held by Chris Read down the leg-side off Mahmood, and the wicketkeeper took his second catch two balls later when Akmal edged a superb leg-cutter from the same bowler. The burst of 3 for 12 in 28 balls left Pakistan with their last two recognised batsmen - Younis and Inzamam - at the crease and England one wicket away from certain success.
And it was Panesar who made the crucial breakthrough with a gem of a ball that spun away from Younis and clipped the top of his off-stump. As England and the majority of the 15,500 crowd celebrated, Younis stood there, totally perplexed, wondering how he had missed it and looking at his bat as though the ball had gone through it.
With Pakistan on 112 for 6 the result was now a formality and England wasted little time in finishing their opponents off. Mohammad Sami set off for a ridiculous single and was comfortably run out by Kevin Pietersen's throw to Mahmood, before the recipient of the throw returned to the attack to claim two further wickets.
Shahid Nazir top-edged a heave that was claimed by Trescothick at first slip and five balls later Umar Gul sliced a push to Collingwood at third. Mahmood was denied his first five-wicket Test haul by Panesar, who lured a frustrated Inzamam to shimmy down the pitch and have a wild heave. Read broke the stumps to bring the Test to a fitting climax.
Harmison's hostility may have won the Old Trafford Test, but Panesar's spin has played a more significant role in winning the series.
'It is definitely more satisfying to win matches as captain'
As England's cricketers clinched their first Test series win since last summer's Ashes at Headingley yesterday - defeating Pakistan by 167 runs as the touring side's attempt to chase a target of 323 fell apart - their victorious stand-in captain, Andrew Strauss, appeared to throw his hat into the ring as a contender for the job on a permanent basis. He did it in carefully guarded language, aware that the injured Andrew Flintoff is due to resume the role as England defend the Ashes this winter, assuming he makes a full recovery from his ankle injury.
"It is more satisfying to win as captain because when you invest a bit more thought and time, to see things come out your way feels very good," he said. "I have enjoyed being captain over the last three Tests but as far as I know Fred [Flintoff] is coming back for the winter. The selectors will decide who is the best to do it and everyone will be 100 per cent behind that man. But anyone would love to be England captain and that for me has not changed."
The Headingley gates were closed on a 16,000 full house and Strauss said it had rekindled some of the atmosphere of last summer. "It is fantastic to see on the fifth day of a Test match and it inspired the players," he said.
Pakistan's English coach, Bob Woolmer, conceded that the better side had won the series. "I congratulate England, they played the better cricket," he said.
Shot of the day
Inzamam's stumping summed up his frustration but he still played some sumptuous shots. The best, a vicious square drive off Sajid Mahmood, hit the boundary only 10 yards to Kevin Pietersen's rightbut the fielder had no chance.
Ball of the day
It was always going to take a great ball or a piece of good fortune to dismiss Younis Khan and Panesar produced the former. Pitching on the line of middle and off-stump and clipping the bails on the top of off-stump, it was a jaffa.
Moment of the day
Football's World Cup and England's stuttering form has given this summer's cricket a slightly apathetic feel, but the good times returned yesterday with the gates shut at 12.30. It was great to see that interest in cricket is still high.
Scoreboard from Headingley
(Headingley; final day of five)
England won toss
England - First Innings 515 (K P Pietersen 135, I R Bell 119; Umar Gul 5-123).
Pakistan - First Innings 538 (Mohammad Yousuf 192, Younis Khan 173).
England - Second Innings 345 (A J Strauss 116, M E Trescothick 58, C M W Read 55).
Pakistan - Second Innings (Overnight: 0 for 0)
Salman Butt c Trescothick b Hoggard 16 38min, 28 balls, 4 fours
Taufeeq Umar c Cook b Panesar 11 80min, 54 balls, 1 four
Younis Khan b Panesar 41 109min, 83 balls, 4 fours
Mohammad Yousuf run out (Collingwood TV replay) 8 12min, 7 balls, 1 four
Faisal Iqbal c Read b Mahmood 11 17min, 11 balls, 1 four
Kamran Akmal c Read b Mahmood 0 1min, 2 balls
*Inzamam-ul-Haq st Read b Panesar 37 85min, 73 balls, 6 fours
Mohammad Sami run out (Pietersen-Mahmood TV replay) 0 6min, 6 balls
Shahid Nazir c Trescothick b Mahmood 17 26min, 20 balls, 3 fours
Umar Gul c Collingwood b Mahmood 0 5min, 4 balls
Danish Kaneria not out 0 9min, 2 balls
Extras (lb6, w5, nb3) 14
Total (199min, 47.5 overs) 155
Fall: 1-23 (Salman Butt), 2-52 (Taufeeq Umar), 3-68 (Mohammad Yousuf), 4-80 (Faisal Iqbal), 5-80 (Kamran Akmal), 6-112 (Younis Khan), 7-113 (Mohammad Sami), 8-148 (Shahid Nazir), 9-149 (Umar Gul), 10-155 (Inzamam-ul-Haq).
Bowling: Hoggard 7-3-26-1 (nb2) (one spell); Panesar 17.5-4-39-3 (1-0-1-0; 16.5-4-38-3); Harmison 15-3-62-0 (nb1) (7-1-21-0; 8-2-41-0); Mahmood 8-2-22-4 (6-2-16-2; 2-0-6-2).
Progress: Fourth day: Close: 0-0 (Salman Butt 0, Taufeeq Umar 0) 1 over. Fifth day: 50: 71min, 15.2 overs. Lunch: 84-5 (Younis Khan 29, Inzamam-ul-Haq 0) 28 overs. 100: 139min, 32.2 overs. 150: 192min, 45.5 overs. Innings closed: 2.54pm.
England won by 167 runs and lead four-Test series 2-0.
Umpires: B R Doctrove (WI) and D B Hair (Aus).
TV replay umpire: N J Llong (Eng).
Match referee: R S Madugalle (S Lanka).
Man of the match: Younis Khan (Pak).
First Test: 13-17 July (Lord's): Match drawn.
Second Test: 27-29 July (Old Trafford): England won by an innings and 120 runs.
Fourth Test: 17-21 Aug: The Oval.