Cape Town - The cricketing treadmill moves so quickly these days, given the increasingly packed and rushed rosters, that we don’t always pause sufficiently to soak in specific, luminary achievements as they occur.
But Proteas middle-order batsmen David Miller and Faf du Plessis deserve a special spell of appreciative scrutiny over the weight of their series-deciding partnership in the third one-day international against Australia at Hobart on Sunday.
The master blasters have muscled their way into a notably elite club in one-day international cricket: they now sit proudly among the top 20 for record stands involving any wicket in the format, which encompasses a total of 4,069 matches.
As if to give renewed hope to South Africans that there can be life after AB de Villiers, the duo pulverised the highly-touted Aussie attack to the tune of 252 runs for the fourth wicket at Blundstone Arena, unsurprisingly the pivotal event of the encounter as the tourists later prevailed by 40 runs to secure the 2-1 series outcome in their favour.
Their initially measured stand - necessitated by South Africa slipping to 55 for three after being sent in - gradually exploded into a counter-punching orgy of carnage (they were able to prove that the Tasmanian crowd don’t catch too well, just for one thing).
Together for some 33 eventful overs until skipper Du Plessis holed out for 125, the pair did just enough to earn that coveted status among the premier 20 partnerships in the roughly 47-year history of ODIs, even as Miller stuck around for just a little longer to achieve a personal best score (by one run) of 139.
They squeeze into those particular statistical annals in joint-20th spot, alongside two prior partnerships of 252: by Australia’s Ricky Ponting and Shane Watson (against England at Centurion in the 2009 Champions Trophy) and India’s Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly (against Sri Lanka at Colombo in 1998).
The largest partnership of all time is the jaw-dropping second-wicket alliance 372 between Chris Gayle and Marlon Samuels against hapless Zimbabwe at Canberra in the 2015 World Cup - Gayle bludgeoned 215 and Samuels 133 not out.
South Africa’s premier entry (now of three in the top 20) is in seventh place, albeit also registered against the relative minnows of Bangladesh: the unbeaten 282 posted by openers Hashim Amla and Quinton de Kock -they should be reunited soon, as Amla returns from injury - at Kimberley in October last year.
Miller has “previous” in the top 20: he helped JP Duminy crack the club at No 17 as they achieved an unbeaten 256 runs for the fifth wicket against Zimbabwe at Hamilton, again in the 2015 World Cup where South Africa’s neighbours copped such a battering in the field.
But Sunday’s Miller-Du Plessis partnership represented the best effort yet by a Proteas pair against a fellow member of the “Big Four” “(also embracing India and England) broadly considered to be the most consistently dominant quartet in all-format modern international cricket.
It was also the third-highest stand specifically for the fourth wicket ever achieved in ODIs, falling behind only the 275 notched by India’s Mohammad Azharuddin and Ajay Jadeja (against Zimbabwe at Cuttack, 1998) and the 256 by another Indian pair (MS Dhoni and Yuvraj Singh) at the same venue against England in early 2017.
In terms of purely South African records, this beat off the prior fourth-wicket landmark of 232 by Jonty Rhodes and Daryll Cullinan against Pakistan at Nairobi back in 1996.
Both also got centuries that day, Cullinan 124 and Rhodes 121.
Rubbing further salt into Australian wounds, this was the highest partnership for any wicket that they have been subjected to by an opponent, seeing off the 237 managed by opening batsmen Marvan Atapattu and Sanath Jayasuriya of Sri Lanka at the Sydney Cricket Ground in 2003.
Miller has cranked up to five personal centuries in ODIs, courtesy of his memorable 100th knock for South Africa in Hobart … the majority now (three) coming when he has been stationed at No 5 in the order, where many pundits believe he should be given a more extended run.
The left-hander, later praised on Sunday by Du Plessis for his ability to “show that he’s got all the gears ... (not just) a power game” has still operated mostly as a No 6 batsman (53 times) in his ODI career.
But he is starting to finally show a more satisfying level of durability at the crease, something that bodes well for a prosperous World Cup from him in England in the middle of next year.
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