Now that David Miller finally has the monkey off his back, he needs to continue building to fulfil the promise that he has held for so long. Miller is far more than a finisher, and how South Africa uses him during the World Cup will be crucial. By ANTOINETTE MULLER.
For a man whose motto is: if it’s in the V it’s in a tree, if it’s in the arc it’s out the park, David Miller’s maiden century against the West Indies on Sunday was remarkably restrained. For the most part, Miller’s unbeaten 130 off 133 balls was modestly approached. Sure, there was a six that landed in the car park, but that was one hit out of many.
Much of his maturity was evident in how he started off. His first 50 came off 75 balls. He accelerated towards his hundred, taking just 46 deliveries to reach the milestone, but hardly ever was any unnecessary risk taken.
He might not have looked in control of every single ball, but he managed to stay patient. That Miller was as comfortable leaving as he was driving showed that he is quickly gaining a maturity at international level which he had previously lacked. He’s no flamboyant batsman, but when he’s in the mood, he can obliterate most attacks – on the domestic circuit, anyway.
Miller’s growth has been slow but steady over the last few years. Stints with Yorkshire in England and a number of outings in the Indian Premier League have earned him something of a reputation. He’s a brutal finisher who can hit any team to pieces on his day. But with such reputations come expectations too and, far too often since he first made his debut in 2005, he has failed to live up to these. Part of that was, perhaps, that the finisher role in international cricket is vastly different to that in domestic leagues across the world.
But international cricket is all about adapting, and that’s exactly what Miller has had to do. Much of the change has come since South Africa’s visit to Zimbabwe last year. He has scored 435 runs in 15 innings at an average of 43.50 since then, but he has also looked far more mature as a batsman than ever before.
His importance in the South African batting line-up cannot be underestimated. While South Africa’s big-name players will be their trump cards at the upcoming World Cup, Miller could not have started to peak at a better time. In the current series against the West Indies, he has been promoted up the order to bat at either four or five. It’s a move that has paid its dividends and which shows that South Africa are finally starting to settle on their World Cup formula.
Miller’s maiden ton could not have come at a better time or under better circumstances. Despite South Africa losing the match by one wicket in the end, it was Miller’s effort that guided them to a respectable total. With Hashim Amla absent and both Faf du Plessis and AB de Villiers failing, Miller finally showed that he is more than “just a finisher”.
Critically, Miller has learnt how to rotate the strike and be comfortable with not just slogging. During his hundred, he took 38 singles and ran a further 20 runs in twos. Engineering a patient innings is something that has been missing from his game for a while, partly because he bats so low down and is always under pressure to score quickly. That Miller is able adapt to batting higher up is a massive advantage for South Africa ahead of the World Cup. It means that they have several “floating batsmen” who can bat as and when the need arises. While the West Indies bowling attack might not be as strong as that of some of the potential World Cup competitors, it’s a big positive that Miller has got the basics down.
The “floating order” concept is something that has been trialled before, under Gary Kirsten, and it failed. But that was before Hashim Amla, Quinton de Kock and Faf du Plessis were around to offer consistent stability at the top of the order. South Africa’s tail might be long, but in De Villiers, Miller and even JP Duminy, they have three players who can switch around roles as required.
Having had time to test the approach against the West Indies should set South Africa up well for the World Cup. There is one more fixture left and this will involve yet another test: coping without De Villiers. De Villiers will sit out of the match with Quinton de Kock likely to make an earlier-than-scheduled return. De Kock was, initially, not expected to be fit until the group stages of the tournament, but has recovered well ahead of time to give South Africa’s batting a boost.
Following the five-match series against the West Indies, South Africa will also play two warm-up games before the tournament begins. They are certainly settled from a batting perspective, but on the bowling front, much work still needs to be done. There has been some improvement to the death bowling, but the back-up bowlers remain innocuous and Kyle Abbott’s struggle for wickets will be a big concern. It’s all systems go from here for the Proteas, as they begin their quest to finally rid themselves of the curse of ICC knockout matches. DM
Photo: South Africa’s David Miller passes a rugby ball during a practice session ahead of their final One Day International cricket match against Sri Lanka in Hambantota July 11, 2014. REUTERS/Dinuka Liyanawatte