Former captain Michael Vaughan has suggested that unless England quickly learn how to play Pakistan spinner Saeed Ajmal they will lose the series.
Ajmal was outstanding in taking career-best figures of 7-55 as England on day one of the first of three Tests.
And after Pakistan eased to 42-0 at the close, Vaughan said: "England were outplayed from the fifth over on.
"If Ajmal continues to do what he's done today, he'll win the series."
The series in the United Arab Emirates is England's first since assuming the number one ranking in Tests by beating India 4-0 last summer.
And Vaughan believes it will throw up new challenges for the current team.
"This is a bit of a series of the unknown for this team because they've not played in the subcontinent and not faced any really world-class spinners," he said on Test Match Special.
"The ball hasn't done a great deal but Ajmal's got 7-55 and spinners have taken 9-112.
"The pitch is a belter, you'd say par is probably 400 so England are 200 runs light of a par score. They got out playing some poor shots. You saw them clap themselves off but they'll know they let themselves down."
As expected, England opted to play only four specialist bowlers with Graeme Swann the sole spinner, a selection criticised in some quarters with calls for Monty Panesar to play as a second slow bowler.
But Vaughan suggested that a further problem could be that, even if Panesar were to play, England do not have spinners with quite the disguise of bowlers such as Ajmal.
"An off-spinner like Ajmal takes some looking at and getting used to because there's a lot of wrist involved," he said.
"There's a lot arm and suddenly it spins in but an off-spinner from England, while they're all very pretty and nice, it's not a mysterious action.
"Could an action like Ajmal's come from England? I'm not sure it could because it almost gets coached out of them. I think we'd love to find one but I don't see us ever doing it."
However, Ajmal's action did draw criticism from Sky pundit Bob Willis.
The former England bowler said he had a "problem" with the action used to deliver the doosra [the ball that turns the other way] and implying that governing body the ICC was making it hard for batsmen by allowing the bowler's arm to bend up to 15 degrees from straight.
Ajmal said: "I am just focusing on my bowling. I don't know about [the criticism] and it's the responsibility of the umpires and referee to check my action."
Certainly England wicketkeeper Matt Prior, who top-scored with an unbeaten 70, had no issues with the delivery.
"He's a big threat," he said. "He's had a good day and he's bowled well.
"I don't think it's a case of us overthinking or fearing him or anything. We just didn't quite get it right."
Although nine wickets fell to spin during the day, the ball rarely showed substantial deviation and former England opener Geoffrey Boycott agreed that the batsmen were guilty of a failure to apply themselves.
"England talked of being patient and having to score more slowly but they got to the middle and that didn't happen. They were guilty of a number of poor shots," he said.
"It hasn't really turned so if you're playing poorly on a pitch like this, which is a good slow batting pitch, then how are they going to play if it really turns?"
However both Prior and Ajmal argued it was far too early to draw firm conclusions on the series.
"This team has been in tough positions before. We have fought our way back, won Tests and saved matches from this position," Prior said.
"We have a huge day tomorrow and we are very confident we can pull something out of this game."
And Ajmal added: "England are the world number one team and it's wrong to say they are weak against spin. I think it was my good day and they had a bad day."