DUBAI - Misbah-ul-Haq, understandably, spends a lot of his time in front of the media explaining that not being able to play international cricket at home has adversely affected the Pakistan team. After their defeat in Dubai - a first for them at this venue - he went even further and questioned whether a more rigorous domestic set-up is also needed for them to thrive in conditions which suit them already.
"It may be due to the first-class system. If you are coming through a tough first-class system, playing really tough teams, facing tough bowlers and batsmen, it automatically comes when you play competitive cricket," he said. "Otherwise, if you are in an easy competition, when you are playing top sides, you will struggle. We must make our first class more competitive. That is why we are not mentally strong."
Pakistan's domestic season had not started before this series was played, although they played warm-up matches before leaving for the UAE, but it is a competition in which matches are often shorter than four-days and five-wicket hauls are not uncommon.
After scoring 442 in the first innings of the first Test, Pakistan looked a completely different side when they were bundled out for 99 on the first day in Dubai. Misbah knew that innings had cost his side the series. "We are disappointed given the conditions here," he said. Before the series Misbah made special mention of how his batsmen would be better on these surfaces than they were in Zimbabwe and South Africa because the pitches suited their style of play. Graeme Smith noted Pakistan's batsmen are "far more comfortable with less pace and bounce that they have here."
Instead of looking elsewhere, though, Misbah wants some continuity. "If you keep changing things, it doesn't help. Opening is one of the toughest jobs. You need some experience. Even the best players struggle sometimes. You just need to be patient," he said. "To keep on changing the openers is not the solution. These guys need to learn. They need more chances to understand what Test cricket is."
If they had that, and the grounding from their domestic game, Misbah believes 99 all out could have been avoided and the session that lost Pakistan the Test may never have been. "It was just one session and if we could reverse that then that thing that is associated with us, that we are just so bad in one hour and one session, would not hurt us. We want to improve on that in future. We don't want these sorts of sessions. We need more character, otherwise ups and downs can really hurt the team."
As South Africa showed in their innings and Pakistan did in their second attempt, the pitch in Dubai had runs in it throughout the game. It also had appreciable turn, which Pakistan's spinners were never able to exploit by having a target to defend. Misbah believed even a lead under of 200 could have given Pakistan a chance. "If we had something of 150 or 200 runs in the last innings, the kind of patches and rough on the pitch, the kind of spinners we have, it could have been very interesting."