Cape Town – David Miller’s lack of decent statistical
returns in limited-overs international cricket will be developing into an
increasing concern for the Proteas management, whether they publicly
acknowledge it or not.
Everyone knows what the big-hitting KwaZulu-Natalian can do –
he is one of that limited breed who can irreversibly tilt a contest in a
four-over tornado -- and the left-hander is a popular, increasingly senior
member of the national set-up and dynamic fielder.
But those last two qualities aren’t usually passports to
long-term retention for a designated batsman, and the time does come for all
players when failure to suitably parallel-line reputation with delivery will
inevitably place them on thin ice.
Quite clearly Russell Domingo and company, who have placed a
sensible emphasis on stability in recent months – a contributor to South Africa
clawing back to the top of the one-day international rankings pile -- are
showing resolute patience with Miller, who has a tough, precarious job.
They will believe that only a couple of crisp-connection
innings are required for their “finisher” to regain his confidence.
But the 25-year-old must also slowly be starting to run out
of concessions in that respect.
Put it this way: if Miller doesn’t hit the jackpot at the
crease to some extent during the next three weeks – across eight Twenty20 or
ODI clashes with Australia in their own environment – the brains trust may be
forced to concoct some sort of “Plan B” with regard to his middle-order slot
with the 2015 World Cup increasingly in mind.
They don’t want this sort of upheaval: they would like to
think their first team is more or less finalised for the February jamboree.
But how long do you carry an increasingly anxious – he must
be experiencing that phenomenon – passenger?
Miller’s current woe continued on Sunday, as he fell for a two-ball
duck in the Proteas’ T20 warm-up (for Wednesday’s opener against the Aussies in
Adelaide, 10:35 SA time) against a Cricket Australia XI at North Sydney Oval; the
callow hosts won by 22 runs although that in itself is probably no train smash.
There is an argument that for the player to recapture form,
he must be stationed higher up the order in order to get sufficient time for
The Proteas have been giving him that luxury of late: he
went in at the princely slot of No 4 in the eventually abandoned third ODI
against New Zealand at Hamilton, but got out for 17 with piles of overs left.
Miller batted at five on Sunday, and took guard before even
before the scheduled midway mark of the SA knock (at 9.4 overs), so this really
ended up being another chance for solid crease time blown as he swiftly
succumbed to a 21-year-old off-spinner, Ashton Turner.
As Kepler Wessels noted last week: “(Miller’s) shot
selection is letting him down.”
The batsman has notched a mere 27 runs in his last four
completed ODI innings, and his last half-century came 23 knocks back, against
India at Centurion in December last year.
It is not as though
he is still on training wheels for his country: he has played 53 matches in
that format, and 26 in the T20 landscape, where his best is still 36 not out
against Zimbabwe (Bloemfontein, 2010).
On Miller’s side is not only the fact that his trade is
acknowledged as hazardous – brazen risk-taking is near-essential towards the
back end of limited-overs innings – but also that there are currently
relatively few other men back home of his power-striking make-up during the
second half of 50-overs innings.
A more seasoned batsman quite like him for long-handle
prowess when the planets are aligned, Albie Morkel, is currently recuperating
from torn ankle ligaments and isn’t expected to re-appear for the Titans until
some time in December, which is cutting it fine to make a late charge for World
It is also impossible not to notice that Morkel’s ODI
batting average, for all his potential for scattering spectators in Row Y,
remains significantly lower than Miller’s (29.68) at 23.69.
Then again, Morkel offers a seam bowling string to his bow,
and also has a strong track record in Australia, where his average soars to
52.50 – courtesy of his player-of-the-series contribution to a famous 4-1 ODI
series thumping of the host nation in 2008/09.
Miller time ... we are entitled to start ringing the bell just
a little impatiently on the bar counter, aren’t we?
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