Test matches (2): Pakistan 1, South Africa 1
One-day internationals (5): Pakistan 1, South Africa 4
Twenty20 internationals (2): Pakistan 0, South Africa 2
"Bilateralism doesn't brook multilateral defiances." These were words uttered during this series by Najam Sethi, head of the Pakistan Cricket Board. Sitting next to him at the press conference was Haroon Lorgat, his counterpart at Cricket South Africa, who had just been told by his employers that he was forbidden to deal with matters India. Sethi is better-known in Pakistan as a political journalist, editor, TV anchor, one-time publisher and a liberal crusader of sorts. His sentence was well-constructed and statesmanlike, and it came in response to an intriguing question. He and Lorgat had just signed off on a quickie limited-overs series in South Africa, to start five days after this one.
Was it, asked the reporter, an act of defiance against the BCCI? No shadow stretches over cricket with as sharp a definition as that of the BCCI. A tussle between Pakistan and South Africa in the United Arab Emirates was engrossing in its own right, but minds were elsewhere, and the question crashed through the prevailing politeness. Both sides were in the BCCI's bad books. South Africa needed to fill a hole in their calendar, which existed because the BCCI had cut short the original itinerary for India's visit after this series - itself partly the result of their displeasure at Lorgat's appointment as CSA chief executive. Pakistan, meanwhile, needed to play as much as possible, wherever they could, to gain exposure - but also to make some money. India-Pakistan matches were on hold, and the cost to the PCB was high: 80% of their last broadcast deal had been based on two series against India.
Sethi's response may have sounded more meaningful than it really was, but it did reflect the role of realpolitik in the world game. The add-on series solidified another point: the PCB and CSA are, historically, steady allies. Pakistan's schedule is generally haphazard, even more so after the Lahore terror attacks on Sri Lanka in March 2009 which ruled out the country as a venue. Tours are modified or cancelled at short notice; others hurriedly snuck in at even shorter notice. There are periods of terrible crunch, but also yawning gaps.
Commitments with South Africa, however, remain as regular as can be. Every three or four years since 2002-03, Pakistan have gone to South Africa in the (northern) winter, and the following autumn South Africa have returned the favour. Other than a series with Sri Lanka, it is the only near-certainty in Pakistan's programme. And the PCB have never forgotten that the South Africans played on in Pakistan in October 2007, after a suicide-bomb attempt on Benazir Bhutto's life.
On the field there were enough reasons for engagement. Pakistan's win in the First Test at Abu Dhabi was surprising, but it also had the familiarity of a home victory: they played precisely as conditions demanded. It was one thread in a heavier, more complex tapestry of home and exile. This was the ninth tour Pakistan had hosted in the UAE since the real start of their security troubles at home, from late 2008. In that time, concerns about the financial implications of playing in the Gulf have been acute. But the near-full-houses in the limited overs matches (and a wonderful Eid Al-Adha holiday crowd through the Abu Dhabi Test) confirmed the calculations of the PCB's bean counters: it costs more to host a series in the Middle East, but the revenues are far greater than they could ever be in Pakistan.
Apart from the First Test and a few ropey moments in the one-day internationals, South Africa looked every bit the world's best travellers, and their rebound victory in Dubai - ensuring their 12th consecutive overseas Test series without defeat - was particularly impressive. So impressive, in fact, that it took the sting out of Faf du Plessis being caught and punished for tampering with the ball using the zip on his trouser pocket. Before du Plessis pleaded guilty, A. B. de Villiers had the gall to insist "we are not a team that scratches the ball". Had this been a not-so-friendly opponent, in a less sterile atmosphere than Dubai, the incident might have caused a diplomatic row.
Gary Kirsten, South Africa's former head coach, was flown in to mentor the batsmen in the four days between the second and third one-day internationals, after some of the problems they had encountered on their tour of Sri Lanka in July resurfaced. Kirsten's arrival had the desired tonic, as South Africa posted 259, 266 and 268 in the next three games, and won 4-1. The result meant South Africa had won all six bilateral one-day series against Pakistan since the relationship was consummated in 2002-03.
Match reports for
Tour Match: Pakistan A v South Africans at Sharjah, Oct 8-10, 2013