A superficial face-saver
Contests without context, rather than dwindling Test crowds or a glut of Twenty20s in a seven-week window called the IPL, will be the death of cricket simply because there are so many. Another has been announced, with South Africa due to host Pakistan for three ODIs and two T20s to add to what has already been an overload of matches between these two teams this year.
Once November is over and this arbitrary series is complete, the two sides will have played 14 ODIs against each other, one at the Champions Trophy, and six T20s in 2013. They at least have contested five Tests, but the glut of short-form cricket has permeated the feeling of playing cricket for the sake of it.
It is impossible to escape the feeling that this next series of matches will represent a going through the motions for some involved. This series was organised to save face. CSA's face.
After the curtailed India tour, which was cut from 24 days of cricket, including three Tests, seven ODIs and two T20s, to just over half that, with two Tests and three ODIs, there was pressure on the South African board to find replacements. They ignored the complaints of supporters, many of whom simply wanted a New Year's Test, but had to listen when sponsors and their own bank balance came calling. And they have probably only succeeded in pacifying the first of those.
Momentum, the one-day team backers, were set to lose the most with their seven ODIs cut to three. Now they will only be missing one and the T20 funders, KFC*, have their matches back. These games are important to the sponsors because it is a marketing and branding opportunity for them, which they signed on for when they decided to associate themselves with CSA.
Whether it will generate positive coverage for them, based on what has already happened with the fixture fracas, is questionable but CSA could ill-afford to take the risk of not having matches as close to the promised number as they could. It was little more than a year ago when CSA was without corporate support at all, following the Gerald Majola-bonus scandal, which cost them far less than what the truncated India series will. They do not want to be in a position where they are begging for backing again.
That kind of business-minded thinking means little else matters which may be why CSA did not bother to tell any of its affiliates the series against Pakistan was confirmed and simply blurted it out via press release. For Western Province and Port Elizabeth, whose grounds Newlands and St Georges' Park, were completely snubbed by the India tour, it was a pleasant surprise. They will now get the limited-overs matches they were originally supposed to host.
For Johannesburg and Centurion it was a bonus. The Wanderers and SuperSport Park are now hosting matches they did not think they would. So far, so good until you get to East London and Bloemfontein who found out, in the same way, they had been left off the list completely.
Both smaller unions had expressed optimism last week, when it was announced they would not host India as originally promised, that they would be on the itinerary if extra matches were organised. Neither were informed before the announcement as to why they were being ignored even when more matches were secured.
One of the commitments CSA made about two seasons ago was to spread the game as far around the country as possible. Venues like Paarl, Kimberley and Potchefstroom hosted ODIs to sell-out crowds. They have now reneged on that entirely, keeping cricket in the big cities only, presumably in the hope of attracting big crowds.
But how do they hope to do that by doing things like scheduling an ODI in Port Elizabeth as a day game on a weekday? Things like that indicate the schedule was not properly thought out and hastily put together, so much so that the two boards do not yet even have a signed document - the very same thing which caused some of the problem between CSA and the BCCI. Haroon Lorgat is flying to Dubai to sign and seal the deal.
It would seem where CSA got it right was to give Cape Town the kindest draw with a T20 on a Friday and an ODI on a Sunday. An insider told ESPNcricinfo Newlands was smiled upon because Lorgat was under pressure from the union where he began his administrative career to compensate them for the way they were treated over the India schedule. Lorgat was also under the same scrutiny from some members of the boards and the sponsors for the fact that he was considered central to the reason India cut short their tour and he turned to an old friend - he was previously a consultant at the PCB - to help ease some of that.
As far as financials go, CSA will not gain much. Hosting a tour costs money. For South Africa, they only make money if India, England or Australia are visiting. They lose money for every other incoming series, including Pakistan. A source close to the broadcasters revealed television rights money will not see CSA in the black over this tour and gate takings will not be sufficient to add anything to profits. That is even if all the matches are sold out.
That scenario is unlikely. Various online forums have already indicated supporters are disillusioned by the way CSA has behaved. After promising a bumper summer, they were forced to cut short India's visit. Many fans have said they will boycott that tour. Prices for India Tests have also been slashed, with it now costing the same as watching a five-day match in Zimbabwe. And many more are just not interested in the overkill of seeing South Africa play Pakistan again, especially given the form of the one-day team.
Match practice may be the only positive to take out of this. South Africa's limited-overs squads continue to search for identity as they lurch from batting crisis to batting crisis and they could use more games to establish combinations, try new players or simply get the ones they have into some kind of form. With the 2015 World Cup 15 months away, it may be time to start getting things right ahead of that event.
It could even be an opportunity to bring Jacques Kallis back a little earlier. He was supposed to play the ODI series against India after recommitting to the fifty-over game with the aim of playing one last World Cup but with that series shortened, he could slot in for this Pakistan one as well to allow South Africa to see how they want to work around him.
For Pakistan, there are also cricketing reasons for which they cannot be blamed for taking up this offer. They continually describe themselves as starved of regular competitive matches and so they are keen to play as much as they can, against whoever offers them a series. They are an enjoyable side to watch and a team that always throws up surprises.
Throughout this year, they've ping-ponged with South Africa in all departments so the actual contests, in isolation, may prove palatable. But they will remain devoid of context and exist, like expensive jewellery, purely the sake of looking good rather than having any actual meaning. And for those in Bloemfontein and East London, they will only be able to watch this superficial series from afar.
*6.20pmGMT, November 5: This story was amended to correct the detail of the South Africa international T20 sponsors
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent