Ingram's feats tell of a game rediscovered

Colin Ingram helped close out victory with three wickets Getty Images

"It just felt like I was meant to be playing out here," says Colin Ingram, as rain hammers away on the roof of the pavilion at the SSE Swalec Stadium in Cardiff. It's not long before the deluge ends what might have been a Friday night blockbuster with Surrey, without a ball bowled. Not for the first time in this summer's NatWest T20 Blast, a Glamorgan home fixture was sodden by the Welsh weather. Ingram has a peek outside, shrugs and smiles.

There are not many people hitting a white ball better than Ingram at the moment. The numbers say it all: with three hundreds and two fifties, he made the most runs in this year's Royal London Cup - 564 - followed by two T20 hundreds in six Blast innings so far. That builds on his 2016 tournament of 502 runs and 29 sixes (equal top with Chris Gayle).

It is in the game's shortest form that Ingram's work is truly distinctive. Of the 10 players, at the time of writing, who have scored more than 1000 T20 runs in English domestic cricket since the start of 2015, Ingram (1162 - third most) has the highest strike rate - 165.05. As a No. 3 batsman, in that same period, he has developed a near-complete game for the various scenarios packed into 20-over cricket - striking at 151 in the Powerplay, 145 in the middle before shifting up a couple of gears to 210 in the final five overs.

Glamorgan worked quickly to secure his services for two more years, solely for limited-overs cricket. The rest of the world are starting to pay attention too: he is currently in talks with the Adelaide Strikes ahead of their Big Bash League season. If there are not many bludgeoning better than Ingram, at 32, it could be because there aren't many as comfortable in their own skin. For that, Ingram credits his move to county cricket.

"It felt like starting a new chapter," he says of the decision he took in 2015 to draw a line under part of his career and sign for Glamorgan on a Kolpak contract.

"Unfortunately I ran into a few really good bowlers when I ended up opening, which wasn't my preferred position"

Although there was anger at the spate and quality of South African players going Kolpak this summer, there was understanding and sympathy for Ingram two years ago. Here was a player with 31 ODIs and nine T20Is spaced out between 2010 and 2013, who batted in every position across the top seven. There are regrets, but none that keep him awake at night.

"I definitely feel I held my own at international level and put in performances," he says. "Unfortunately I ran into a few really good bowlers when I ended up opening, which wasn't my preferred position. But when you get a chance to play international cricket, you don't turn it down. It was an unsettling period because I did move around, I was in and out of the side and I didn't feel backed. But that's top-end sport. If you're in the top 15 players in the country, you take whatever you can get. I tried to make the most of it. I'm a positive sort of guy."

A switch of Bays, from Nelson Mandela to Cardiff - at least for six months of the year - has proved cathartic, allowing Ingram to renew his free-wheeling younger years in Port Elizabeth where he learned his trade on slower pitches similar to those in modern county cricket.

Failure had changed Ingram, curbing an intent that he has finally rediscovered. "I started off quite fluent and then became a bit of a blocker. As most players do, you wiggle your way through and find a way. Then, in the last couple of years of my career in South Africa, I became quite tight and nervous under pressure all the time. Coming out here, I wanted to let myself loose and rediscover my game." And how: this season he has hit 28.3% of balls faced for boundaries.

"After playing international cricket, when you have a lot riding on each performance, you can get quite tight. So I've come out here and really enjoyed my game and rediscovered a lot. The freedom has come with that and it has been great."

South Africa's limited-overs sides are in a constant state of flux, but no one from Cricket South Africa has asked Ingram to reconsider his position, apart from a moment last year when a national selector shouted across a packed room to tell him he had proved his point and that it was time to come home. A heckle taken with a heavy pinch of salt.

Ingram's affinity for the UK goes beyond his stint as Somerset's overseas player in 2014. He'd long been wise to the rhythm of county cricket through a childhood of anecdotes from a schoolfriend's father, Ken McEwan - a stylish batsmen who played for Essex between 1974 and 1985, and who himself was introduced to county cricket by Tony Greig. "I grew up listening to stories from Kenny and, from then, it was something I always wanted to do."

After making his first-class debut for Free State in 2004, before representing Eastern Province, Ingram had his first taste of cricket in England two years later with a stint for Spondon in Derbyshire. "I was only 20-years-old when I came to do that. I needed a job in the winter. I wasn't really making much money playing cricket at that stage. I was taken in by families and made some great friends."

He returned in 2007 but in a far more precarious state, having lost his domestic contract. In search of the best-paid gig, Ingram spent 2008 north of the border, playing for Dunfermline.

"Those pay cheques are what paid my rent at home and kept me playing first-class cricket. It was an incredible experience at a young age to come out and pro at a club."

"Yeah, that was… interesting. I didn't play much cricket. It rained a lot. It wasn't a particularly great standard but I had lost my contract so I was unemployed. I was just looking for a good deal."

Luckily, he had a supportive girlfriend, who upped sticks in the middle of her university studies to back his attempts to stay in the game and tour Scotland on the side. Ingram can't help but laugh about aspects of this period - "from being stuck on the tip of Africa to Dunfermline!" - but appreciates the debt he owes to both cricket clubs for the platform they provided him.

"Those pay cheques at Dunfermline are what paid my rent at home and kept me playing first-class cricket. It was an incredible experience at a young age to come out and 'pro' at a club and have that responsibility. I encourage our guys at home to get out as well; you learn a lot from it."

In 2013, Ingram opened South Africa's batting during the Champions Trophy and the following year signed for Somerset as cover for his compatriot Alviro Petersen. It was this period at Taunton, with a shrinking window to get his place back in the national side and an enduring desire to experience county cricket to its fullest, that convinced him to go Kolpak. Unfortunately for Ingram, a change of focus at Somerset eventually saw the county reject him.

At that point that Glamorgan captain and former South Africa international Jacques Rudolph came to Ingram's aid. The pair were not particularly close - they'd brushed shoulders on a national camp before, recalls Ingram, but not much more - but their paths did cross in 2014. They bonded over a love of the outdoors.

A month or so after his Somerset deal fell through, with every week pushing Ingram out of his eligibility window for a Kolpak deal, he got a defining call from Rudolph. "He just walked out of a wedding in South Africa," remembers Ingram. "He asked me, 'Are you keen to come back to England?' I asked him 'who do I need chat to.'"

A day later, Glamorgan chief executive Hugh Morris called, gave him the sell. That was that. The next conversation would be his hardest. That girlfriend who selflessly moved to Dunfermline was now Ingram's wife, with a different Celtic adventure put to her. "If that's what we've got to do, it's what we've got to do," came her reply. So, Ingram, his wife and their daughter made the move. "I've been fortunate to have her support."

Ingram's duty of care extends beyond those within the walls of his Cardiff apartment. Even at his team in South Africa, the Warriors - a "passionate, hard-working" domestic franchise, one of the smallest in the system, "growing with a lot of young guys" - his focus is skewed towards pushing those around him.

Part of Morris' initial chat with Ingram was to underline that as much as he'd be needed out in the middle, his work behind the scenes would be just as important as Glamorgan bring more Welsh players through.

Criticism of a lack of local players in their system has been widespread. Worcestershire director of cricket Steve Rhodes is one figure who took aim at the likes of Ingram and a Glamorgan squad packed full of imports.

Ingram bit back: "I know what's going on under my roof. Maybe for people from the outside it's easy to look in and make a comment without knowing the full facts. But I know my role here is to work with the young Welsh players and bring them through."

One of those is Aneurin Donald, one of the brightest prospects on the circuit. "We talk a lot about the game," Ingram says of the prodigy. "I've encouraged him to have separate accounts: your white ball account and a separate red ball account. If you structure it up in that way it makes it a lot more clear-cut and you don't wander between the three formats. When you're working on your red ball, you're working on your red ball."

Ingram's next focus is broadening his horizons on the international T20 circuit. The finer details are due to be ironed out with Jason Gillespie and the Strikers - he has everything crossed after a gig with Sydney Sixers fell through last season - but with this and another two years at Glamorgan, he has a solid base of work lined up.

"A lot of the opportunities that have come from playing out here," he acknowledges. "I'm really grateful for that." He hopes, too, that he will be able to earn a spot in South Africa's new Global T20 League this November.

As for the IPL, that is a little more complicated because of the need for "No Objection Certificates" from Cricket South Africa and, in essence, from Glamorgan: Kolpak players are required to prioritise their county.

"It gets quite confusing," says Ingram. "I play six months back home and I play six months here so both sides feel they have some sort of right to me. But I think I'm moving towards a stage where I'd like to get out to international tournaments in the next two years. That's my plan. Being 32, I know I've got loads of cricket in me. Without international cricket on the table, that's the next challenge."

Prior to sitting down with ESPNcricinfo, as the rain begins, he is in deep conversation with Surrey's Kumar Sangakkara, picking his brain about what options might be open to him in the off-season. In fact, Ingram breaks off his chat for this interview.

"I've not seen Sanga in a while. I'm fortunate that I've played against and chatted to these really high, marquee players. So it's great to touch base with him and throw out a few ideas and see what he thinks. Often in life it's who you know and not what you know."

Ingram is right. Luckily for him, he is now one they'll want to know, too.