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Why isn't Colin Ingram being picked in all the T20 leagues?

Churn it up: in the last three years, Colin Ingram has turned himself into a valuable T20 batsman who can also bowl a bit, but the opportunities he's getting are still limited Getty Images

"Colin Alexander Ingram (born 3 July 1985) is a South African cricketer who currently plays for Glamorgan and the Warriors. He represented South Africa at the 2004 U-19 Cricket World Cup played in Bangladesh."

That is the first paragraph of Colin Ingram's Wikipedia page. It doesn't mention that he represented South Africa over 40 times, making three ODI hundreds, one on debut; nor his 78 in a T20I against India. Let alone that he has played in the IPL, BBL and PSL. And it says he played in the Under-19 World Cup. He didn't even make the squad. It doesn't point out Ingram has become one of T20's beasts in the last three years.

Since the start of 2015, Ingram has made 2619 runs in major T20 competitions. Seven men have made more - Kevin Pietersen, Dwayne Smith, Kumar Sangakkara, Shane Watson, Kieron Pollard and Brendon McCullum. Two of them average more than him; one is Pietersen. Two have a better strike rate; one is Pollard. The only player who has averaged more and scored quicker in the top eight run scorers in the world is Chris Gayle.

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Ingram's father, Clive, is nearly 64; he still plays cricket. His mother, Merylee, used to throw balls to her son. The game is part of their family. He grew up on a Protea and beef farm when he wasn't at the local cricket ground in Thornhill, near Port Elizabeth.

He went to Woodbridge College, a small school on the Eastern Cape, and made his first-team debut at 14. In his class was Riki Wessels. For years they provided the backbone of their school side.

But Ingram did not get picked for junior representative team. "In South Africa, if you're not straight in the U-19 side, it can be quite tough," he says. He played no U-19 cricket for South Africa, and instead of signing for a franchise, he went to Free State University to study agriculture so that he had a back-up.

At university Ingram made his first-class debut, for Free State, "I played a couple of games, more as a legspinner down the order." In his first game he bowled 11 overs and went wicketless. He turned out infrequently for Free State, playing only six games in his first season. He started the same way the following year, before getting a call from the Warriors franchise, allowing him to move back to his beloved Eastern Cape.

For Warriors, Ingram played more cricket, but he didn't break through, and he was released from his contract at 23. For about nine months he played club cricket in Scotland before Warriors re-signed him.

At 23, Ingram was a journeyman batsman, college dropout, occasional legspinner, and former school prodigy. "I felt a lot out of my depth playing first-class cricket." A career in farming was likely.

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Ingram doesn't stand out in Glamorgan's warm-up football match. He's short but not that short. He's got a barrel chest but it's not that pronounced. You could imagine more than a few South Africa or Glamorgan fans seated next to him on a train asking what he does for a living.

In the warm-up, some players camp out on defence, others up front. It's not clear who is who. After a while it's clear there is one guy going from end to end, hustling, keeping pressure on the ball, trying to force mistakes.

Next are the fielding warm-ups. Ingram is one of the ring fielders, and at one stage he hits the stump four throws in a row. Other players throw their arms up when they hit it once; Ingram doesn't react to hitting it repeatedly. Before his fourth straight hit, he fumbles the ball, and even as it is hitting the stump, he's gesturing for the coach to hit him another one so he can correct his mistake. Later he'll drop a catch, and again, he's asking for the coach to hit him another one so he can get it right.

***

As a first-class cricketer, Ingram has been decent for a while. He averaged 34 when he was first let go by Warriors. Since then he has averaged around 40. He has 14 first-class hundreds.

But the white ball has always been his thing, right from the moment he crushed 64 not out - with three sixes - in his List A debut. Ingram has always dominated in one-day cricket. From the start he has averaged 43, and struck at 86, and it was that form of the game that got him South African attention. In 12 games for Warriors after re-signing, he averaged 60 and struck at over 100.

At 23, he was an unemployed cricketer; at 25, he was playing ODIs for South Africa. "It all went pretty quickly. I just tried to keep my head down. I like to think I'm a level-headed kind of guy. I was fortunate to get a couple of hundreds in my first few games.

* Ingram's value is nearly 11 additional runs to the team per game

Ingram's first game was against Zimbabwe, who used eight bowlers. Ingram and Hashim Amla made hundreds. His fifth ODI was in Abu Dhabi, against Shoaib Akhtar, Abdul Razzaq, Shahid Afridi, Wahab Riaz and Saeed Ajmal. South Africa made 286, Ingram made 100. "I practised my sweep a lot before going there. I was worried I wouldn't be able to pick their spinners. I was basically dropping down before Ajmal had let the ball go."

It wasn't just ODI cricket - Ingram played T20Is as well. In eight games in and out of the team, he struggled, until in his final game, against India, he made 78 from 50 to set up a winning total.

From his debut in 2010 until the Champions Trophy in 2013, he was a quality ODI player - strike rate a bit slow, but his average hovered around 40 for most of that time, and he added another hundred against Pakistan. It was a strong era for South Africa, who were often ranked the second best ODI side at the time. "There was Kallis, de Villiers, and the gang." As good as Ingram was, he only played a little over half of South Africa's matches during his career. By the end he was opening, which didn't really suit him.

He played in South Africa's 2013 Champions Trophy campaign, where he only passed 20 once - a fast 73 against West Indies. In South Africa's last match of the tournament he made a duck. His last four innings were duck (J Anderson), duck (L Malinga), duck (M Irfan) and four (S Tanvir). Four runs in his last four ODIs, after 124 in his first innings. He never played for South Africa again.

"I took it hard at that stage, it felt quite rough."

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In the 2011 IPL auction, Ingram was taken for US$100,000 by Delhi Daredevils. The same price Dimitri Mascarenhas, Nuwan Kulasekara and Matthew Wade went for.

Delhi had a poor year, and Ingram's was just as bad. His first game, he only faced two balls, part of a top-order collapse where Delhi were 7 for 4. His second game ended when Dwayne Bravo took a stunner at point, with Ingram making seven from 12. In his final game he was at the crease when it rained; his 13 not out is his top IPL score.

"In India I spent two months on the bench during the World Cup, and then another two months on the bench, or mainly on the bench, in the IPL. So it was four months in India playing a handful of games. I found that very tough. It showed me what was out there, but also that I wasn't quite ready for it."

Based on his record, he was lucky to get those chances. He'd only ever made four scores over 50 when he was signed.

Despite playing for South Africa and the IPL, Ingram as a T20 player didn't really exist.

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He always wanted to play county cricket, "One of my friends, Grant, was the son of Kenny McEwan, who played for Essex, so I grew up listening to stories of county cricket. My dad loved it too. So when I was feeling I was out of the national space, I felt like this was the natural place".

He had already played club cricket for Spondon in Derby, which had helped his game, and when he was out of contract for Warriors, it was Scotland club Dunfermline that paid his rent.

In 2014, Somerset invited Ingram to cover for Alviro Petersen as their overseas player. He liked it so much, he tried to play for them full time. But it was Glamorgan, captained by Jacques Rudolph, who made the offer. "I'd played some Champions Trophy down there and I made a score against West Indies. I loved Cardiff and the ground. I didn't know Jacques that well, but I knew he liked fishing and outdoors. After having a chat with Hugh Morris I was dead keen."

Making the Kolpak decision was tough, but South Africa weren't calling. "It was about not sitting at home for five months during winter. My confidence had taken a knock and the only way to get back out there was to go out and play. At first it wasn't about leaving South Africa, it was more about making sure you got as much cricket as possible, try to churn out some runs".

Ingram took the new job and also reinvented himself as a player, "As a kid, playing with Riki Wessels and the guys at Woodbridge, I played freely and I hit the ball a long way. And I'd got to a place in my game where I'd become a nudger and nurdler; I wasn't seen as someone who was dangerous."

Ingram decided to make himself into a weapon. His plan involved many aspects. Enjoying T20 was the first part.

Then it was about plans. "I premeditate now, massively. I've worked really hard that I can premeditate and get out of it if I'm not quite there. It's part of my game now, I like trying to get ahead of the bowler, and I like lining guys up if I am reading what they bowl."

There is also the technical. "I put my bottom hand on the bat more firmly. The way guys hit the ball these days, you need both hands on the bat. I did change a few things, tried to open my backlift a lot more, and I was a lot more closed when I started playing first-class cricket. So I did a few conscious technical things, which has allowed me to swing more freely."

And game awareness. "I like the game to dictate to me what should happen. I try and be smart in that way. But sometimes I let myself down. The game still dictates what you can and can't do, so I try and keep it simple".

To continue the reinvention, Ingram brought back his bowling. He had forgotten his legspin altogether and had become a wicketkeeper. At Glamorgan, he started bowling again. Since then, his legspin averages 32 and goes for 7.6 an over. That's more than good enough for a sixth bowler.

But the most important part is the amount of cricket he now plays. Earlier, Ingram played domestic cricket in South Africa while waiting for national selectors' phone calls. From 2004, when he first played pro cricket, until the end of 2015, he had played 81 T20s. In three and a half years since, he has played 96.

He needs the extra work. Ingram uses the word "churn" all the time. T20 batsmen don't say "churn", they say "hit". But churn has allowed him to turn himself from a T20 struggler to one of the best on earth. The Ingram formula: enjoyment + planning + technical + awareness x matches = one of the best T20 players in the world.

Until January 1, 2015, he averaged 24 and hit at 123 in T20s. Since the reinvention, he's been at 34 and 147.

On various advanced metrics since the start of 2015, across platforms, Ingram is a star. ESPNcricinfo's Smart Stats ranks him as the tenth best batsman in T20 using the Smart Batting Index. His smart strike rate ranks sixth, at 168.24.

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Ingram's batting technique is tight, solid, all common sense and muscular forearms. It looks like defence is his primary weapon, and then he unleashes a cannon.

His pull shots, which seem to come naturally, disappear. But it's the drives, especially inside out over mid-off and extra cover, that seem to be the closest he's been to avant garde. For most of the time, he's like a boxer with his arms close to the body, who uses powerful short-arm jabs to rock you, meaning there aren't many chances to get through him. Then he gives himself some room and allows himself as much flourish as he feels comfortable with.

It's rare that he looks like he is trying to hit the ball hard. Sometimes he punches the ball, sometimes he knocks it out of the ground. Either way, runs come quickly.

***

D'Arcy Short got paid Rs 4 crores (US$584,000 approx) to play in this year's IPL. Luke Ronchi went unsold. Short has played two years of the BBL - in that time (including a handful of T20Is), he has averaged 42 while striking at 150. Those are significant numbers, but they were virtually all in one competition, and over less than 18 months. In that same period, Ronchi has averaged 34 but struck at 175. Ronchi achieved these numbers in the Super Smash, Blast, BPL, CPL and PSL while also being a first-choice keeper (compared to Short's part-time bowling).

The T20 marketplace is still very inconsistent. Teams pick players based on hype, hunches and trends. There are plenty of players who slip through the cracks. Evin Lewis has been averaging over 30 and striking at over 150 since 2014. Until this year's IPL, outside the Caribbean, he had only ever played two seasons of the BPL.

Ronchi and Ingram got their chance in the IPL, didn't do anything with it, and they never got another. There are roughly 28 spots for overseas batsmen in the IPL, yet these two guys can't get one.

This year Royal Challengers Bangalore had a choice of picking Ingram. They wanted both flexibility at the top of the order (they would pick Brendon McCullum), and big hitting at the death (they also took Colin de Grandhomme). They briefly thought about Ingram and Corey Anderson but took neither. After the auction, their fast bowler Nathan Coulter-Nile was injured, and they replaced him with Anderson. Despite the fact that Anderson had bowled only 43.5 overs in T20 over his last three years (less than an over a match).

Had they taken Ingram ahead of McCullum or de Grandhomme, they would have given themselves greater flexibility (McCullum is suited to the top, de Grandhomme the death). But the fact they picked Anderson for Coulter-Nile still shows how confused list management is at the top level. And it's not just the struggling teams like RCB that get it wrong.

When Sunrisers Hyderabad lost David Warner to suspension, Ingram was probably the most like-for-like player out there - he can bat in the top order, bat long, bat consistent, turn over the strike, and hit boundaries at roughly the same level. They showed interest - "I was almost on the plane for ten minutes," Ingram says - but didn't sign him.

Sunrisers struggled with their batting all season without Warner to rely on. In the final, they opened with Shreevats Goswami, a journeyman who hadn't play a game between 2012 and 2018. Alex Hales, the back-up opener, is nothing like Warner as an opener. Even Kolkata Knight Riders had to go into a final with only three overseas players, so little faith did they have in their remaining imports.

It's incredible that Ingram hasn't played more in the IPL, but it's crazier that when he did, he wasn't 70% the player he is now. Also, despite dominating T20s since 2015, it took until the 20117-18 BBL for him to start playing outside South Africa and England. Before going to Adelaide Strikers last season, he almost signed a previous offer with Sydney Sixers, but it's weird that teams haven't come calling with huge briefcases of cash for a batsman who can score big, consistently and fast.

But then, neither has the South African national team.

***

Eric Cantona played with his collar up and attacked fans. Dennis Rodman went from quirky power forward to global peace ambassador with tattoos, piercing and dyed hair. And Sugar Ray Robinson owned a nightclub, which he turned up to in a flamingo-pink Cadillac.

Certain athletes stand out. Ingram does not. He has a country smile, friendly disposition and a farmer's work ethic.

"A lot of people don't see me in the T20 space, or maybe they don't look at the numbers. I don't think I'm the most marketable person, I'm quite down to earth, and I'm not big on social media. But that's being true to myself. If I go too flashy, it wouldn't suit me. Hopefully I become a little bit marketable over the next couple of years. I'm all about the cricket; I want to churn out numbers. "

People might not always notice, but Ingram churns out numbers - many of them are fours and sixes.