London: Pakistan’s seven-year road trip has reached a destination few had forecast: a first-time No. 1 ranking by the International Cricket Council for five-day test matches.

Pakistan has been unable to play home tests since Sri Lanka’s team was attacked by terrorists on its way to a match in Lahore in March 2009. But it took the top spot Monday, when the match of the previous leader, India, against West Indies was effectively rained out in Port of Spain, Trinidad.

“There is no greater feeling than to achieve the number-one ranking in the most traditional and purest format of the sport,” Pakistan’s captain, Misbah-ul-Haq, told the ICC’s website. “This is what cricketers play for and want to achieve in their own careers.”

Waqar Younis, coach of the team until April 2016 and one of the greatest bowlers in Pakistan history, proclaimed “a proud moment for the whole nation.” Pakistan has never previously headed the rankings, which were introduced in 2003, although a retrospective calculation has placed it hypothetically on top for a very brief period in 1988.

The ranking also represents a huge personal achievement for Misbah, at 42 the oldest active international cricketer. He has been captain since 2010, when he was recalled to a team that was in hopeless disarray after the spot-fixing scandals that led to the banning and imprisonment of three players, including his predecessor, Salman Butt.

“I would rather give full credit to Misbah, who has shown resilience against his critics and never spoken a harsh word when things were going wrong,” Waqar said, when asked by ESPN Cricinfo about his own contribution to Pakistan’s success. “His honesty and good intent have made a huge difference, His positive intentions and his characteristics are outstanding.”

Misbah has also excelled as a batsman, scoring more than 2,200 runs at an average of 55 runs per dismissal in the 25 matches since May 2013 that count in Pakistan’s ranking. He found a remarkable lieutenant in another veteran, the 38-year-old former captain Younis Khan, who has scored nearly 2,800 runs at an average of just under 63 and played 11 innings of 100 or more — culminating in 218 in the victory over England at the Oval in London earlier this month that gave Pakistan its shot at No.1.

His team has reflected Misbah’s durability and resilience. Some critics have suggested that Pakistan’s excellent record at its home in exile in the United Arab Emirates means it has suffered little disadvantage, but Misbah rebuffed that argument after the victory at the Oval.

“Living every day away from your family and friends and playing every game away from Pakistan is really difficult. It is mentally tough,” he told journalists. “I can see my mother only once a year. I only see my sister once a year. We are out of the country all of the time.”

Pakistan has continued to grow talent. When its leading spin bowler Saeed Ajmal was banned in 2014 because of questions about his bowling action, the team called up Yasir Shah, who had no test match experience but has since taken 95 wickets in 16 matches and briefly topped world bowling rankings.

Its players, including the veterans, have confounded a previous stereotype by getting fit. They attended military training camps before the tour of England and celebrated memorable moments such as victory in the first match of the series, at London’s storied Lord’s ground, with displays of push-ups.

As a team Pakistan competes hard and does not quit. Behind 2-1 with one to play against England it came back from two consecutive defeats to win at the Oval and draw a memorable series, 2-2. It is undefeated in six series since August 2014, when it was ranked sixth.

It will now have to compete hard to retain the top place against ferocious competition. It leads India by only a single point, 111 to 110 points per match, under the formula calculated by the ICC’s statisticians. Australia, which led until it was swept 3-0 in Sri Lanka earlier this month, and England, which could have gone to the top had it beaten Pakistan , are tied in third place at 108 points.

Next up for Pakistan is a three-test series against the West Indies in the United Arab Emirates, which it will expect to win. But after that come two formidably demanding away series: two matches against New Zealand in December followed by three in Australia in January and February 2017.

India, meanwhile, looks forward to 13 consecutive home tests against New Zealand (3), England (5), Australia (4) and Bangladesh (1) over the next eight months.

Pakistan will do very well to retain top place — and its symbol, the ICC mace — at the end of that sequence. Nor does the road trip show any sign of ending. Zimbabwe went to Pakistan for a series of short-format — one-day and Twenty20 — matches in May 2015, but cricket’s richer and more powerful nations show no sign of following.

“For us the No. 1 ranking is not a destination, but part of a journey,” said Misbah after his team’s rise was confirmed.

Courtesy NY Times