South Africa's fringe talent spurned at the IPL
Colin Ingram, Rusty Theron and Faf du Plessis would easily make the starting XI of most franchise teams. Rilee Rossouw, Robbie Frylinck and Jonathan Vandiar would come close too. These six men are among the most talented and best performing on the South African domestic scene, skills that won them IPL contracts, giving them a massive stage to show off their cricketing gifts. But, the curtain fell on that stage before it even opened.
Theron, du Plessis, Rossouw, Frylinck and Vandiar did not a play single match and Ingram featured in only three of Delhi Daredevils' 14 matches. His highest score was an unbeaten 13, and his stint did not provide IPL watchers a glimpse of the real Ingram, a classy batsman with a wonderful balance between force and flair, a big hitter who topped the run charts in both the twenty- and forty-over formats in the 2009-10 South African domestic season.
All six players were rewarded with varyingly handsome sums of money, with du Plessis the highest earning bench-warmer, pocketing US$120,000 over three seasons, while Ingram was bought for US$100,000. It's cash that can hardly be scoffed at, but even the heartiest of pay-outs can do little to stem the disappointment that comes with spending two months watching cricket when one would rather be playing. "I did feel a little left out and had to try and remind myself to stay sharp so that I would be ready when my time came," Ingram told ESPNcricinfo. "There were times when it was frustrating."
Communication at the Delhi franchise did little to help and it was one of the areas that Ingram identified as an issue of concern during the IPL. "It wasn't really spoken about; why certain people didn't play, and it was something that became a bit of a problem. We [players and management] did discuss the communication and it was decided that that is an area that will be improved upon next season."
Delhi finished at the bottom of the table, something that would have further demoralised players, but Ingram was upbeat about the future of the franchise. "It was very encouraging to see how well the group of guys got on. There were a few dark days and when Viru [Virender Sehwag] was ruled out injured we lost a lot of momentum, but this is a young team with a lot of talent and I think we will do better next time."
Despite the tepid start to his three-year tenure in the glamorous competition, Ingram enjoyed the experience of being part of the tournament. A relative newcomer to international cricket - he has played 12 ODIs and five Twenty20s for South Africa - Ingram said the most important thing he took away from the tournament was "learning to deal with people from different countries".
Unlike some of the other foreign players, he travelled with the team to all their matches and said that he "tried to get involved wherever I could, whether it was to be 12th man or carry drinks". Through that, he saw many different parts of India and "enjoyed learning about Indian culture".
Ingram says the season allowed him develop strong bonds with some of his team-mates, like Prashant Naik, Yogesh Nagar, Aavishkar Salvi and Varun Aaron. "Some of the time we would have our own training sessions and share with each other. I taught them a few techniques in dealing with short balls and they helped me work on my reverse sweep."
Ingram also used the time in India to gather information to transfer to his home franchise, the Warriors, who will play in the Champions League in India later in the year. "I wanted to learn as much as I could so that I could bring those skills back when I return with the Warriors." The franchise finished last season's Champions League as runners-up to the Chennai Super Kings and will be anxious to show that their success was not merely a fluke, especially because the tournament was played in South Africa last year.
Ingram was luckier than the rest of the young South African contingent, which did not get a single opportunity in the IPL. Rossouw, a formidable batsman from the Free State, said his experience was a little less anxious than Ingram's because he did not expect to be in the starting XI. "I was told that my chances of playing are slim and then we had a few injuries, I thought maybe I would get a game. But I had decided before the competition that even if I don't get game time, it's all about the learning experience."
Bangalore's fortunes changed with the arrival of Chris Gayle, four matches into the competition. He single-handedly lifted them all the way to the final, and Rossouw enjoyed being in his presence. "The whole atmosphere changed when he arrived. We started winning. I spoke to him a little about how he prepares for games and I learnt a thing or two."
Rossouw only travelled to a handful of Bangalore's away games and spend the bulk of his time training at the Chinnaswamy Stadium. He found the intensity and focus similar to what he experiences in South Africa, although there was a heightened emphasis on fielding, "always a bit of a hype with Ray Jennings".
Rossouw is looking forward to returning to the next edition of the competition and is hopeful that he will get a chance next year if he does will in the domestic season. Players like Faf du Plessis, who didn't take the field for Chennai and Davy Jacobs, who was injured midway through Mumbai's campaign may be thinking the same thing.
The IPL was different for South Africans this time around because unlike in second edition, when Yusuf Abdulla was uncovered, or 2010 when Rusty Theron was contracted and even given games after a successful domestic season, only the players with a fair amount of international experience got regular game time. Big names like Albie Morkel, AB de Villiers and Jacques Kallis were able to prove their worth, but fringe players who are either on the brink of international cricket, like Rossouw, or trying to establish themselves, like Ingram and du Plessis, were consigned to carrying drinks.
In a worrying sign for South African cricket, they also missed the last round of first-class fixtures to participate in the IPL. It meant that the likes of Ingram were hidden away in a dugout in India, when they could have instead been showcasing their talent back home. Ingram may have become richer in the process, but what he lost in game time, is worth far more.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent