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Colin Ingram has profited under Gary Kirsten's new regime, and his self-belief has grown accordingly
Firdose Moonda in Bloemfontein
March 10, 2013
October 15, 2010. A bashful Colin Ingram lapped up accolades after he became the first South African to score a century on ODI debut. It had come against Zimbabwe. Two weeks later, October 31, Ingram scored another hundred against Pakistan. His place in the 2011 World Cup squad was safe.
However, a poor run against India led to him playing only once in the tournament, and he soon disappeared into the wilderness. Ingram spent ten months out of the team before reappearing briefly against Sri Lanka in January 2012. That brought only another lean patch, and another year out of the side.
March 10, 2013. Ingram scored the third century of his career in the same city he lived in as a student, debuted, and made his name in. His team-mates told him it was the best he had played for South Africa, and the circle appeared complete.
Ingram is too smart to think along those lines, having traveled a rocky road thus far. "It feels like it was just the other day that I made my debut here, but it's been a long journey," he said, looking much less like a boy and more like a man. "I have had to work really hard on my game and I've realised that this is a very competitive side."
Competitive because, until Jacques Kallis was declared no longer available for bilateral one-day series by Gary Kirsten at the beginning of the year, that's who Ingram was competing for a place with. Daunting? Just a little.
If Kallis was rested, Ingram got a look in knowing that when the allrounder returned, he would be sidelined. It was not an environment suited to growth, and not a position in which he would have felt he had backing. He yo-yoed in and out, and became the epitome of South Africa's middle-order problems.
Ingram, however, was unperturbed, calling himself a "relative junior," who did not mind being replaced. It may simply have been that he did not have the self-belief to think any other way, and no one was giving him reason to develop any.
Now things are different. Under Kirsten, players have blossomed because they have had confidence shown in them. Robin Peterson is the standout example, Ryan McLaren is fast becoming another. Ingram could be the third.
Ingram knows Kallis could return for an event like the 2013 Champions Trophy, but he also knows he may not be directly in the firing line. If he continues to perform as he has done in the last three matches, which also includes 79 against New Zealand, he can have some say over whether he gets left out.
"Jacques is probably one of the best players in the history of cricket, so it's difficult to feel like I am competing with him," Ingram said. "But I know we want to win games so if I can come in and make a difference, I can keep playing."
Ingram has fought his way back once, and knows what it takes to do that. He used his time away from the national team to work on ways to put himself into contention again.
"I worked on my fitness. As a young guy, you always think you should but it has given me a bit more mental strength," he said. "Technically, I only tweaked a few small things, like I looked to sweep a lot more, and to try and create as many options as I could to score runs."
Ingram played the spinners well and used the space of the Bloemfontein outfield to pick up singles and twos. One of the less spoken about reasons Ingram was not considered well suited for the national team, in the way others like Faf du Plessis were, was because he did not appear tough enough.
He does not come across as a typical South African sportsman because he is more like the boy-next-door. His statistics are impressive without jumping off the page, and his manner is unassuming. Hashim Amla proved that one does not need to be overtly strident to make it, but it may take a little longer for those with less brazen personalities.
Ingram seems to be getting there and is more relaxed about being himself. He revealed with great glee some details of his background, which had been circulating in the media after a former Warriors' team-mate tweeted the nickname "farmer," in his congratulations to Ingram.
He did, indeed, grow up on a farm. It is located outside Port Elizabeth in the district of Thornhill, which he often visits. "It keeps me very humble to connect with the people there every now and then," Ingram said. As a result, his preferred monthly magazine is Farmer's Weekly, "not Sports Illustrated," and he laughed off suggestions of it being a source of a few dressing-room jibes.
The most poetic part was learning what crop his parents have invested in on their farm - the Protea. The flower is South Africa's national blossom and is the nickname of the national team. It rests on the badge of their shirts. When Ingram looks down at his, he may hope he can grow as profitably as the seeds planted at his parents' farm.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondentFeeds: Firdose Moonda
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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