Michael Clarke believes his players have improved in Asian conditions since their horror tour of India last year, despite the scorecard in Dubai showing a 221-run victory for Pakistan. Clarke faces the prospect of becoming the first Australian captain since Mark Taylor in 1994 to lead his side to a series loss at the hands of Pakistan, unless the team can dramatically turn things around in Abu Dhabi.
That would require a far sturdier batting effort than what was put forward in Dubai, where they were dismissed for 303 and 216. At least there was some fight on the final day from Steven Smith and Mitchell Johnson, who made 55 and 61 respectively, but what really hurt their chances of salvaging a draw was the four wickets for five runs that fell late on the fourth afternoon.
"I'm obviously very disappointed with the result but really impressed with the way Steve Smith and Mitchell Johnson in particular showed a lot of grit today and fought their backside off," Clarke said. "That's part of the Australian way. We certainly weren't going to turn up here today and throw our wickets away. We were going to fight as long as we could and I thought those two played really well in tough conditions.
"I think you have a look at [Alex] Doolan, Clarke, [Nathan] Lyon, [Brad] Haddin, [Mitchell] Marsh, I don't think any of us faced more than 25 balls [in the second innings] did we? So it's probably a fair indication in these conditions it's really hard to start your innings. The longer you bat, the more time you spend there, the easier it gets. I think Younis [Khan] was a good example of that, the way he played in both innings. He took his time early and gave himself a chance. Once he was in he capitalised on that."
There were some positives from the Australia batsmen, most notably David Warner's 133 in the first innings, but by comparison there were four Pakistan centuries scored during the Test. In India last year, Clarke scored a hundred on the first day of the series and it was the only Australian ton for the whole tour, and Clarke firmly believes that his side has improved in Asian conditions since that 4-0 loss.
"I think we've certainly improved as a team," he said. "I think we obviously have more work to do in these conditions. But you've seen some examples - Davey making a hundred, Smith making 50, the way Mitch played today - you've seen some examples of players certainly improving in these conditions. Unfortunately the result is the same as what it was in India. But I think as a team in general we've improved out of sight since that series, for a number of reasons."
What troubled the Australians most in India was the spin in the pitches, but what caused problems in Dubai was often playing for spin that did not eventuate. Zulfiqar Babar's wickets largely came with deliveries that slid on with the arm and the Australian batsmen struggled to handle his accuracy, whereas Steve O'Keefe's similar style was generally rebuffed comfortably by Pakistan's batsmen.
"The hardest part about playing on subcontinental wickets is the inconsistency in spin," Clarke said. "You get natural variation off the wicket. You bowl the exact same ball. One ball spins this far and the next ball skids on. It is hard to practice but you can do that.
"If we have practice wickets that aren't spinning and they're sliding on you can practice on that. And then you can go and bat on the grass for instance when you know when there's no wicket at all, that is going to spin. The grass will spin. There are ways we can continue to train."
One man who will certainly be keen to improve his work against spin is the No.3 Alex Doolan, who made a laborious 5 in the first innings and a fifth-ball duck in the second. The only runs he scored against spin came with an edge past slip, but Clarke was confident Doolan could thrive in the conditions after seeing him score an unbeaten century in the tour game in Sharjah.
"I'm certainly not going to sit here and say that he can be out of form," Clarke said. "He just made an unbelievable hundred in the tour game. Dools will be fine. He's a very good player. He knows his game really well, he's showed he can bat in these conditions, like I say he made a beautiful hundred. You don't lose class overnight, that's for sure, and I'm confident that come this second Test he'll probably make another hundred."
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @brydoncoverdale