South Africans will not watch the Indian Premier League (IPL) even though it is about to take over at least one of their cable television channels. They will not care which team wins. They have no clue who the defending champions are, and they could not tell you why, for instance, Chennai Super Kings are a better bet to go all the way this year than, say, Sunrisers Hyderabad. They will be oblivious to who wears the orange and the purple caps, and why. And all that despite the fact that, in 2009, the tournament annexed South Africans’ own backyard for seven mad weeks. That is part of the problem: “The IPL? Again? It’s not coming back here, is it?” It was the time of Modi and Majola and a damaging disrespect for anything that put itself in the way of the IPL getting its own way. South Africans loved the razzmatazz of that tournament and turned out in numbers that far surpassed those of the crowds who attend domestic or even some international matches to be able to say they were part of the fantastic fuss. But they despised putting up with the arrogance that seemed to be the price the tournament organisers demanded. Longstanding debenture agreements at grounds were ignored. Instead, the IPL suits and their hangers-on were ushered in and ensconced. Ground and stadium staff were treated like second-class servants, never mind citizens. Then, without informing the board as he was legally bound to do, Gerald Majola paid himself and other Cricket South Africa staff fat bonuses. So, we can hardly blame South Africans for thinking the letters I, P and L stand for Incredibly Pompous Losers. Take all of that for the gospel truth and you would probably also believe that Narayanaswami Srinivasan and Lalit Modi get along just fine and dole out soup to the homeless thrice a week. It is true that South Africans do not much care which team will be crowned IPL champions on June 1 and that they will not keep track of which heads are topped by orange and purple caps. But watch the matches they will, otherwise the games would not be broadcast live and in full on television here. But, rather than particular teams, South Africans will be intensely interested in the performance of particular players – their 12 compatriots who will feature in the tournament. The spotlight will be focused most sharply on Jacques Kallis. South Africans will look for signs that, despite his retirement from Test cricket after the Boxing Day match against India, he remains a viable option for next year’s World Cup. Will Dale Steyn, who sailed through the first 30 years of his life without suffering serious injury but now seems to hurt himself brushing his teeth, hold up for the entire campaign? Will David Miller justify his price tag of US$2.1 million? Does Gary Kirsten still have what it takes or will Paddy Upton prove the widely whispered theory that he was the brain behind Kirsten? For South Africans, the IPL is not a competition in its own right as much as it is a measuring stick to gauge the current and likely immediate future form of some of their most prominent players at a level higher than that offered by domestic cricket and below the full-blown intensity of the more important international game. In that sense, the IPL represents one of the few chances South Africa’s best players will have to test themselves against cricketers of similar calibre before the 2015 World Cup. As the schedule stands, aside from three one-day internationals in Sri Lanka and two, probably three, games against Australia in a triangular in Zimbabwe, AB de Villiers’ men look like going to Australasia in February underdone. Certainly, the five ODIs they will play against West Indies in January – accurately, against Chris Gayle and a cast of journeymen – are not going to do them much good. South Africans do not have many reasons to like the IPL but they understand its value. They know it is an important indicator of their cricket’s health at almost the highest level in the limited-overs formats. Besides, who cares if they don’t take the event as seriously as Indians do? A simple snapshot of Steyn and Kevin Pietersen shooting the breeze that was posted on social media garnered 329 retweets and 509 favourites in 24 hours. “Cool hanging with Dale Steyn this afternoon,” was Pietersen’s caption. “A great reason why the IPL is so good!” That, at least, is the opinion of one South African.