JOHANNESBURG  - Pakistan are losing ground on Test rivals because they cannot host international teams owing to security concerns and accordingly play fewer Test matches, captain Misbah-ul-Haq said on Monday.

As his team prepared to take on the world's top-ranked Test team South Africa in the three-Test series starting in Johannesburg on February 1, Misbah said Pakistan were at a disadvantage because of the "limitations".

"As a team it is very difficult when you not playing a format on a regular basis. You really have to work hard. But we have to adjust, you could say it is a limitation for us but we are professionals, we have to do well," he told a news conference. "We don't have home series and when you aren't playing at home then you miss a lot of cricket and you play only about five or six Tests a year when other teams are playing 15 or 16 Tests a year. It really does affect your team."

Pakistan have not hosted a Test-playing team since armed militants attacked the Sri Lanka team bus in Lahore in 2009, killing eight Pakistanis and wounding six Sri Lankan players. Their 'home' matches since then have been held at neutral venues, mostly in Dubai or Abu Dhabi, while Pakistan have not played a Test series anywhere since July last year. Misbah said that the success of the two-match series between a World XI and a Pakistani All Star team in October last year showed that Pakistan could safely host international matches. "Pakistan is such a big cricketing nation and the world has to think about bringing international cricket back (to Pakistan). The T20 tournament in Pakistan saw full stadiums for every match. There were no (security) concerns. The people should have international cricket," he said.

Misbah's words were echoed by Pakistan team manager Naveed Akram Cheema who said that the situation in Pakistan was a lot safer than outsiders perceived. "Our people in Pakistan are being deprived of international cricket. There is a difference between perception and reality. People don't come (to Pakistan) on the pretext of security concerns. But I can tell you that it is as safe as any country in the world," he said.

Misbah said Proteas fast bowler Vernon Philander will be one of the South African players to watch out for in their Test series next month. Philander was included in the Proteas squad for the series after missing out in the second Test against New Zealand with a hamstring injury.

“I think the way Philander is bowling is really taking so many wickets,” Misbah said. “He's really a factor with the new ball and swinging the ball and hitting the seam. “I think the best way is just to stick to your basics and just go there and try and see off these sort of bowlers, and then just capitalise. In Test cricket you need to do your basics right. If the bowler is bowling well or that batsman is batting well, you just have to stick to your basics in how you tackle someone.”

Misbah said he knew his team would have their work cut out against the hosts, who would be strong favourites to clinch the series. “With the likes of (Hashim) Amla, Jacques Kallis, Graeme Smith, they've got everything in their batting line-up. Then they've got quality bowlers like (Dale) Steyn, (Morne) Morkel and Philander. They are really a good side and we have to play well against them to put some sort of game on.” Misbah said his side would be keen to prove themselves against the top rated outfit in Test cricket.

“This team has really done well for the last two-and-half years. It's really a big challenge for us to come here to play the number one team in the world, and especially in their conditions, it's really tough. This Pakistan team are ready to take challenges. They have proved that in the last two years, so I think this will really be a test and we really want to play well in South Africa.”