South Africa has five days to regroup from the humbling seven-wicket loss to Pakistan on Thursday and try to protect the Proteas' seven-year record of not losing a Test series away from home.
Following the first loss by Graeme Smith's team in 16 Tests over two years, South Africa is in a must-win situation when the second and final Test starts in Dubai next Wednesday.
Smith's counterpart Misbah-ul-Haq sealed the victory with a straight six over spinner Robin Peterson.
"Obviously extremely disappointed sitting here," Smith said. "We have been outplayed before the completion of four days.
"This team has too much ability to make this a habit ... we haven't been in this position too often and with the standards that we set ourselves, we should have the ability to bounce back."
This Test series is South Africa's first since Smith led them to a 3-0 sweep of Pakistan at home in February. Soon after, the captain underwent ankle surgery while premier batsman Jacques Kallis also sorted out niggles while spending time with his family and playing golf.
Smith thought of putting Pakistan under pressure when he opted to bat first after winning the toss at Sheikh Zayed Stadium. But barring the brilliance of Hashim Amla's 118 and a half century from JP Duminy, no other batsmen adjusted to the subcontinent-like slow pitch and South Africa were bowled out for 249.
Going into the Test, Kallis, AB de Villiers, Alviro Petersen and Amla all scored half centuries in the warm-up match at Sharjah against Pakistan A, but it seems Proteas bowlers learned little how to bowl at the right length from that practice game.
Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander bowled too short of the length and allowed Pakistan's new opening pair of Khurram Manzoor (146) and debutant Shan Masood (75) to score at will in their team's healthy response of 442 in the first innings.
Steyn more than 20 overs to get his first wicket.
"We didn't get wickets with the new ball and they got a very good partnership and made life tough for us," Smith said.
In catchup mode, South Africa conceded a first-innings lead of 193. The top order crumbled on the third afternoon and left South Africa staring at defeat, which became reality on Thursday.
"From a skill perspective Pakistan were better than us and we have to be honest about that," Smith said.
He rued not posting 350-plus in the first innings.
"The first innings was where we were put under pressure ... if we'd pushed on to over 300, 350, we could have given ourselves a chance."
Steyn and Philander gave Pakistan some nervy moments in a brief run chase for 40 when they reduced Pakistan to 7-3 inside the first four overs.
"It was bittersweet because it made us think if we have 150 or 200 runs, we could have had a chance, but (at least) we were better with the new ball and that's a big step in the right direction," he said.
Smith said he was confident his team will bounce back and level the series.
"We have to make sure we are not too emotional and that we have clever plans," he said. "We are really motivated to win the next Test match. That's got to be our ultimate goal. I have no doubt we have a team that can come back and square the series."