Mickey Arthur, the Pakistan coach, believed the 4-1 ODI series defeat to Australia that was sealed in Adelaide highlighted the gulf between the two teams - the hosts are the top-ranked side in the format while the visitors languished in eighth place. The latest loss, by 57 runs in the final ODI, also brought the curtain down on a long and disappointing tour of New Zealand and Australia, on which Pakistan won just one international match out of ten.
"Results-wise obviously it has been disappointing," Arthur said on Thursday. "We came here thinking we had a real chance, certainly in the Test matches. We [are] still a fledgling ODI side. There are some gaps in our ODI side that we need to work hard to fill for us. We're ranked eighth at the moment and I think you could see the gap between eight and one. So we've got a lot of work to do in that regard."
Arthur was frank in his assessment of Pakistan's fielding standards and levels of fitness. They have improved, he argued, but not by enough. "Believe it or not, we have worked extremely hard at our fielding," he said. "Me and my support staff have been around for seven months now. That has been our focus and priority. Fitness levels have improved dramatically in terms of our day-to-day reports but we're way behind the rest of the pack.
"So, fitness and fielding is again going to be total priority before we go to the West Indies (in April). We will have time to have a camp after the PSL (Pakistan Super League) and we will put in a hell of a lot of work into it because we are just not up to the mark in those. With the ball and the bat we compete perfectly well. I think we saw the difference here. Davey Warner gets in and gets 170-odd today and he gets it very very quick. That is the difference between chasing 310 and 370-odd. Warner and our fielding has probably been the key difference between the teams."
Arthur did find silver linings in the Adelaide loss and was effusive in his praise for the batsmen. Sharjeel Khan hit his third successive fifty - a 69-ball 79 that gave Pakistan the trigger in their chase of 370. Babar Azam hit his fourth ODI ton and finished the series with 282 runs; Sharjeel, with 250 runs, was the only other batsman to top 200 runs.
The two of them, Arthur said, would be instrumental to the growth of the Pakistan side.
"If you look at a lot of our guys over a period of time, their strike-rates are only mid-70s, upper 70s. So for us to be able to chase down 300, guys have to be able to play above where they have for their career," he said. "Sharjeel is different. Sharjeel gives us that start, gives us that momentum. I was quite hard on him after the Brisbane ODI. Since then he has played extremely well for us.
"Tonight was the best innings he played because the one thing we know is he can hit boundaries and he hits them at will. He didn't have the strike rotation in his game, which he has now. And with Sharjeel going, it allows young Babar Azam to just play his normal game. I have made a lot of statements about him, I think he will be an outstanding player for Pakistan, he really is. He is going to score a lot of runs. He is only very young at the moment but he is going to be very, very good. Sharjeel takes that pressure off him. In terms of us building an ODI unit they both are pivotal to where we go with our team now."
Arthur did, however, admit to being frustrated at taking "three steps forward and a step and a half back" but insisted results in Australia hadn't pulled down the team's spirits. "I can't fault the guys in terms of their work ethic, the way they have prepared, the way the team has bonded, there's no factions, no groups, a very, very pleasant bunch of guys to work with," he said. "We are working extremely hard, we really are. We are taking significant steps. We get three steps forward and take a step and a half back. It is frustrating, it is disappointing, but we will keep working but when the signs are good and we see some good stuff, it is very very rewarding as well."
Pakistan's schedule has also been demanding. They have been on the road almost non-stop since the tour of England last summer. "Yeah look, and that's never an excuse, fatigue has played a massive role," Arthur said. "I can see guys are mentally tired. We finished in England at end of August. We had seven day off, then we had the West Indies series, then straight to New Zealand and then here.
"We have been on the road for an extremely long time and it has started to show. Coupled with the fact that our boys never play at home, they are never at home. it is tough, it is not an excuse but it is tough for these guys."