Bloemfontein likes to claim Colin Ingram as its own. He was born in, schooled in and discovered cricket in the Eastern Cape but he actually became a cricketer in the City of Roses. Ingram moved up country to the Free State academy when he was starting university, six years ago. He stayed in Bloemfontein to complete his studies and blossomed as a young cricketer.
"It's my second home," said Ingram with a nostalgic smile. Many cricket-lovers in this part of the world were wishing he would make it his permanent home after the abundant promise he showcased in his academy days, but Ingram returned to his roots. After graduating, he went back to Port Elizabeth to play for the Warriors.
He knew that there would always be the occasional trip back to the Free State. One of those visits was Ingram's twenty-over debut. He was out for a third-ball duck. Subsequent journeys have been more successful, such as the 80 not out he hammered off 65 balls in the MTN40 in January this year. In fact, the whole of the 2009-10 season was a success for Ingram, who was the highest run-scorer in the MTN40 with 600 runs at 60.00 and the Standard Bank Pro20 with 282 at 47.16.
Ingram is not a numbers man though and admits he "wasn't aware of any of the statistics" involved in his performance in the opening ODI of the series against Zimbabwe. His eyes grew wider as he was told of the landmarks he had passed in this match. First, he surpassed Shaun Pollock's 66 as the highest ODI score by a South African on debut, then, he became just the sixth player in history to score a century on ODI debut and the only South African.
What he was concerned about was making an impression. "I haven't does as well as I would have liked in the recent months, especially coming off the back of the Champions League," he said. Ingram scored 122 runs in six matches in that competition. He started off trying to rectify that scratchily and only 16 runs came from his first 28 balls. "I was actually a bit nervous when I was on about 20 and started thinking that I should score quicker."
Who better than to help him get his confidence back than a man who is overflowing with it? "Batting with Hashim Amla was absolutely wonderful. He is one of the guys that I have basically grown my game around. He told me to just bat with him, get my feet moving and enjoy my time at the crease." While following the instructions of a man who had raced to his third ODI century of the year, Ingram found that he got his groove back and was able to maintain it even after Amla departed.
He shared a 76-run fifth-wicket stand with David Miller, a sign that the new-look South African middle order is developing into a formidable force and answering the captain's calls for the younger team members to take on major roles. Graeme Smith said he hoped performances like these would allow the players to "answer the question themselves" about who will be picked in the next year's World Cup squad.
Ingram will face an enormous challenge for the No. 3 spot from Jacques Kallis but he is happy for it to remain that way for now. "I am still a relative junior and if the situation demands that Jacques comes straight back in, I am happy with that. I am here to learn, grow my game and take any opportunities I get with both hands."
In this match, he grabbed full hold of that opportunity and throttled it for all it was worth. "He remained calm and stuck to his game plan throughout, he had a good training week and a lot of belief in himself," said Smith. There won't be the luxury of that much time for preparation before Sunday's match in Potchefstroom. But he'll have happy memories of the place having made an unbeaten 125 in the MTN40 the last time he was there.