Now Miller must do it for SA

2013-05-07 12:00
David Miller (Gallo Images)
Cape Town – Inevitably there will be a clamour for David Miller to quickly be installed as an automatic trump card for the Proteas in the looming ICC Champions Trophy tournament in the United Kingdom.

How could there not be, following his “anything Chris Gayle can do, I can do almost as well” power-hitting performance for Kings XI Punjab in Monday’s Indian Premier League match against Royal Challengers Bangalore at Mohali?

The Pietermaritzburg-born left-hander’s match-winning, whirlwind knock of 101 not out off just 38 balls, and at a supersonic strike rate of 265, is the talk of cricket-crazy India right now, with “Killer Miller” headlines and posters reportedly in strong evidence.

KwaZulu-Natalians who have keenly tracked his progress since he made his first-class debut at the callow age of 17 will not be especially startled by the extent of his carnage at the crease ... his ability to smash the ball far and hard is well known in the province and also the broader South African landscape.

Known to be especially lethal striking the ball straight back down the ground or on the outer fringes of the proverbial “V”, those qualities were very much in evidence on Monday.

The almost 24-year-old Miller, pleasingly, seems a batsman on a fruitful restorative mission, after going through a couple of years in which slight corrections – or read: dwindled effectiveness -- were experienced.

Sages will tell you that those periods can carry inadvertent blessings, and that if players emerge from them stronger, more learned and hungrily intent only on making up lost ground, the sky becomes the limit once more.

So the timing of Miller’s extraordinary onslaught could hardly be better, with the Proteas’ first match against India in the Champions Trophy, at Cardiff on June 6, now less than a month away.

Nor is it as though the middle-order bomber’s fireworks came out of the blue: he has been in excellent form throughout the IPL and entered the latest fixture on the back of successive innings of 51 not out against Chennai Super Kings and 56 against Mumbai Indians.

Throw in the fact that Miller had also been showing signs of renaissance in a green South African shirt towards the end of the 2012/13 summer – decent, purposeful knocks in two ODI outings at the critical tail-end of the series against Pakistan – and you get a clear picture of a man on a mission.

Yet a certain tempering phenomenon cannot be completely ignored: it is not out of the question, after all, that Miller would not have made the 15-strong Champions Trophy squad, revealed only last Thursday, had it not been for Jacques Kallis’s disappointing, late non-availability.

Keep in mind that South Africa have a considerable rebalancing to do at the event without Kallis’s glittering array of all-round skills – it means, in essence, that they will carry a fluffier tail than they might like next month, given the probable need now for all-bowling components between positions seven and 11 in the order.

And unlike a reasonably kindred spirit in the “finishing” department like Albie Morkel (before that player’s gradual slip into the international wilderness) Miller does not give you a bowling option.

In an ideal world, I quite firmly believe – and perhaps the Proteas brains trust does, too? – that Miller is tailor-made for the No 7 slot in the Proteas’ 50-overs plans, and if he is to be accommodated under present circumstances, it will almost certainly have to be a rung higher at six.

Maybe that’s not train smash, with “just get the guy to the crease” an understandable rallying cry from his swelling fan club.

But he is also yet to truly demonstrate that he is capable, for his country, of doing a stabilising job in the event of a clatter of early wickets – the Champions Trophy is not only the more extended one-day format, which can require simultaneous extra doses of patience, but is also to be played in conditions likely to be greatly more challenging for batsmanship than the various, very deliberate IPL belters.

Let’s face it, as much as you need forceful finishers, you also require a comforting enough battery of solid “starters” in your line-up.

If Miller is going to make the cut at No 6, the Proteas have then got to work out how to assemble the best possible top five from a field of candidates that will include, remember, the rightful presence of a fit-again JP Duminy.

The last-named player has considerably less to prove in prior track record terms than Miller does: Duminy has the necessary versatility both to re-establish the innings if it is wobbling a tad and, in his own enterprising way, to be a high-tempo factor towards the “death” overs of the innings.

 Miller’ s a bit of a problem, then, in terms of Champions Trophy strategic considerations ... but we’ve also been served another reminder, in Mohali, that it’s a head-scratcher of a pretty pleasant kind.

Roll on the Champions Trophy; it seems unlikely that South Africans will be deprived of a fresh examination, at least at some stage, of David Andrew Miller’s top-tier credentials ... even if he will be as aware as anyone that he has some ground to make up in terms of statistical weight to the Proteas’ cause.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    proteas  |  david miller  |  cricket

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