Champions Trophy 2013 June 17, 2013

Ingram quietly confident in opener's role

Colin Ingram looked comfortable at the top of the order in South Africa's last match against West Indies after a couple of nervous outings; South Africa will hope he stays comfortable there for a long time

Colin Ingram does not immediately appear a man to go to war with. He is too polite to say anything offensive, too mild-mannered to raise anyone's ire and too gentle to be afraid of. His innings against West Indies may start to change that impression.

Ingram was the only batsmen to raise his bat to a half-century in a carefully crafted knock that displayed temperament others lacked. He saw off the new balls patiently and dealt with the spin threat by taking it on.

It was a display which showed the cut and the sweep as his two main weapons. They transform him from a baby-faced rookie into a man with gravitas.

In actual fact, Ingram is both those things. He has been playing professionally for eight seasons and made his international debut three years ago but has been performing a new task in this competition: partnering Hashim Amla at the top of the line-up. A tough ask of anyone.

Ingram said it was "not a new role" because he has done it before but that was a long time ago and at a lower level. He opened the batting in 21 of his first 26 List A matches at the start of his career. But he only did it once between November 2009 and now, despite which Gary Kirsten promoted him ahead of Alviro Petersen, the specialist opener who was included in the squad as Graeme Smith's replacement.

Petersen, a regular in the Test squad, was picked on the strength of his form on the county circuit despite not playing an ODI for over a year at the time. Although the national selectors indicated he would play alongside Amla, Kirsten decided to gamble on Ingram because it "would not be too different" to playing him at No. 3 and would allow them to fit David Miller into the middle order.

Kirsten's Midas touch worked again. After two innings where Ingram seemed uncertain and vulnerable outside the off stump, he found his feet against West Indies and formed a good foil to Amla.

They put on 80 runs in 12.1 overs, the highest opening stand of South Africa's campaign so far. What stood out above the numbers was the understanding they seemed to have of each other's game plans.

A small example was their running between the wickets, which was more confident and better communicated than it had been previously. The pair also appeared to have adjusted to conditions which have proved to be trickier than expected. "The two new balls have probably posed more of a challenge than we thought," Ingram said.

Slow starts have been a trend in the tournament and Ingram is happy to adopt a more conservative approach. "It's been important to stick together with Hashim and look after the new ball," he said. "We're looking to assess conditions up front, and just try and build the partnership. The first few overs it nips around. We have to stick in there and try to look for bad balls."

The home side, England, have been the prototype for that. Other teams have tried to do the same with South Africa succeeding in their most recent game. Ingram and Amla's base allowed the middle order to bat with some freedom.

It has also meant South Africa can continue to use the No. 3 position as their swivel spot. If they want a pinch-hitter who can lengthen the line-up, Robin Peterson is on hand. If they want someone to capitalise on a good start, AB de Villiers steps up and if they feel the innings is going according to plan, Faf du Plessis can step into the role.

The floating batting line-up did not work for South Africa in the past but they seem to like the idea enough to try it again. Key to its success is having a strong opening pair and with Smith injured, South Africa had to search for a new one.

Smith and Amla were the top two in 46 ODIs and averaged 42.77, and their left-right combination was thought to be one of the reasons for their success. Ingram is also a left-hand batsman but does not have a heavy bottom hand or a penchant for swiping towards the leg-side, like Smith. He is a more delicate player who handles spin well.

He has only been in the job for three matches, so it is too early to start making comparisons but he has had a promising and quietly confident start. If the soft-spoken Ingram can keep it going, he may be able to nail down the place for long enough to become the man South Africa can entrust with many of their biggest battles with the bat.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

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