The biggest threat to a Pakistani team, cricketing pundits often proclaim, is the players themselves. Many a good Pakistan team has been destroyed, not by the opposition, but by divisions within – captains and former captains at loggerheads with each other, teams broken into factions, disharmony between coaches and captains, and general chaos pervading within the ranks.

You don’t have to go too long back. Only this year, when Pakistan traveled to India for the World Twenty20, did a familiar facet of Pakistani cricket come to the surface again. The captain Shahid Afridi courted controversy, their batsman Umar Akmal washed dirty linen in public and their coach Waqar Younis resigned before he was sacked after the team was knocked out in the group stage. It was business as usual for the Men in Green.

Is this actually Pakistan?

And so, there was something refreshing about watching the same team, shepherded this time by their grand patriarch Misbah-ul-Haq, at the sport’s greatest venue, Lord’s Cricket Ground, as they completed an enthralling victory over England in the first Test on Sunday. They were easy-going, they were calm. They smiled often and laughed with their team-mates. Wahab Riaz bowled delivery after delivery in a fierce spell after tea on the fourth day – some missed the bat, some got the edge but fell short. He even received two warnings for walking on the pitch, but none of it affected his resolve – he smiled, shrugged and continued back to his mark.

They dropped catches but decided not to dwell on them. They enjoyed what they were doing, soaking in the atmosphere and playing for the fans. A particularly heart-warming moment stood out when, after taking a difficult catch in England’s second innings, Mohammad Hafeez acknowledged a young Pakistani fan who had been vociferously cheering them on – it was a nod to the fact that this team understood what this performance meant to their long-suffering fans.

This easy-going demeanour was all the more refreshing because of the build-up that preceded it. This was no ordinary match for Pakistan – it was the first time they were playing a Test match outside Asia in two and a half years. They had left the venue, Lord’s, six years ago in disgrace over a cloud of spot-fixing. The debate over whether Mohammad Amir should have been brought back to cricket had reached a crescendo and there was every chance that the team could fold under overwhelming pressure.

Bringing the smiles back

In fact, they enjoyed the occasion. Never once did they panic. Yasir Shah bounced in, spun a few, gave it plenty of rip and finished with 10 wickets in the match. The attention may have been on Mohammad Amir, but he was strangely off his best. No bother, though, as two other left-armers plunged in and did their bit. Rahat Ali is not glamorous, he may never run through a side or swing a ball like Wasim Akram at his peak, but he complements this side brilliantly. And as for Wahab Riaz, he is a captain’s dream – all heart, willing to bend his back even with little reward.

That a Pakistan team is supremely talented is a fact well-known. But under this easy-going demeanour, forged by the supremely calm Misbah, they have steel inside. And even during the best moments of this historic Test victory, they remembered to pay tribute to where they had developed that armour, Misbah’s push-ups after his century in the first innings, and then Younis Khan directing the entire team to do a series of push-ups on the hallowed Lord’s turf, as a doff of the hat to the army officers in Abbottabad who had trained them before coming to England.

For Pakistani cricket, bruised and battered as it is, it is a momentous achievement. For a country that has rarely seen good times in recent past, it is a chance to smile, exult and celebrate. But for world cricket as such, it is a happy day. Like the West Indies, when Pakistan do well, it makes cricket a happier place. And by defeating England at the spiritual home of cricket, Misbah has sent out a clear message: ignore us at your own peril.