Pakistan head coach Misbah-ul-Haq rued his side's lack of fortune at crucial times on the fourth day as Pakistan slumped to a tense three-wicket defeat at the hands of England in the first Test at Old Trafford. Writing for the PCB's in-house website, Misbah said Pakistan "were right on top until pretty much the last session of the game" and warned his players not to be "mentally down" as they try and hit back in the second Test, which starts on Thursday.
In a detailed piece addressed to supporters following one of the more agonising defeats in recent years, Misbah paid "full credit to England for the way they fought back" and admitted his side may have panicked at crucial moments during Chris Woakes and Jos Buttler's 139-run sixth wicket partnership during England's chase. He addressed the failure of the Pakistan side to bowl short at Woakes early on during his innings - a perceived weakness of the England allrounder - but said Woakes and Buttler "had quite a lot of luck in that partnership".
"We are feeling frustrated, just as the fans are, after the Old Trafford Test match but this is how cricket is," he wrote. "There are very small margins between victory and defeat and it's easy to curse yourself when you've lost. There is disappointment, of course, but we must not keep that feeling in our minds otherwise it will be difficult to come back but the team believes we can fight back. It was a thrilling Test match and full credit must go to England for the way they fought back, came from behind and took the game away from us. There was wonderful cricket played by both teams. Sometimes luck doesn't favour you, sometimes the opposition plays well - that's the beauty of the game."
He praised Azhar Ali's decision to bat first upon winning the toss, singling out Shan Masood for particular acclaim. "Shan should be given a lot of credit for his innings. He has been working so hard - with coaches Shahid Aslam and now Younis Khan - ever since I took the coaching job last September. He's changed a few things in his basic set-up and his approach to batting in South Africa and then Australia. He's a different batsman now and Younis has helped him too."
The decision to go with Shadab Khan at No. 7 raised eyebrows, particularly with Fawad Alam deemed to be the favourite to start given Haris Sohail's withdrawal from the squad in June. But both Misbah and Ali defended the selection of Khan during the game, insisting he provided a balance to the side it had been lacking for a while.
It was an argument somewhat undermined by Khan going on to bowl just 11.3 overs all match; it wasn't until after the 50th that he was introduced in either innings, serving more as a back-up spinner than the genuine second spin option many might have expected when he lined up in the starting eleven. He did, however, score 45 in a crucial 105-run partnership alongside Masood in the first innings, steering the Pakistan innings back on course when it looked like it might be imploding. Misbah acknowledged some of the attention around his inclusion and his subsequent use as a bowler, without divulging much useful detail.
"There has been debate about whether we could have bowled more short stuff or we could have bowled Shadab Khan earlier. Maybe so, but you also have to remember that Woakes and Buttler did have quite a lot of luck in that partnership. A lot of balls went here and there, into no man's land. If one of those goes to a fielder then the situation could have been very different. We still need to improve, of course, but overall we fought really well against a top team in our first international fixture for six months."
After securing a 107-run first innings lead, Pakistan stumbled to 137 for 8 after tea on the third day, several soft dismissals contributing to Pakistan's inability to kill off the game there and then. It meant England were set 277 to chase, which might have been a stiff target, but wasn't the insurmountable one Pakistan would have been hoping for given the way the Test had panned out until then.
However, only once had a higher fourth innings target ever been successfully chased at Old Trafford, and Pakistan had only ever lost four Tests having set a target higher than the 277 they set England for victory. The last of them came in the previous century, when an Adam Gilchrist-led counterattack saw Australia hunt down 369 to deny Pakistan a famous win in Hobart in 1999.
Misbah promised his team would do their best to mount a fightback, thanking the fans for their support. "This is an unusual tour, of course, but we are feeling very happy and comfortable in the 'bubble'. We are spending a lot of time together, which has allowed the group to bond well. My message to the fans is that you have given us excellent support from back home so far and we thank you for that. Please keep supporting Pakistan and we will do our best to come back in this series, which I really believe this team is capable of doing."