Birmingham – David Miller successfully wrestled his more dynamic instincts to anchor an unexpectedly sub-standard South African innings of 219 for eight in the ICC Champions Trophy match against Pakistan at Edgbaston here on Wednesday.
The left-handed middle-order batsman took guard with the Proteas already in some peril at 61 for three in the 15th over, and showed a better sense of gumption and application than most of his colleagues on a quirky surface unlike most of the truer, relative belters seen at the tournament so far.
Miller was still there at the finish on an unbeaten 75 off 104 deliveries, having extraordinarily registered the first four of his innings – though there were also three peep-out-of-the-shell sixes – off the final ball of the SA innings.
That fact alone seemed to prove how difficult boundary-scoring was, whilst a pretty rare, swollen sum these days of 117 singles in a completed 50 overs was just another indicator.
There were a meagre nine fours by the Proteas collectively.
Although the SA total certainly bucked a trend favouring totals of around 300 or more batting first during the Champs Trophy, just by getting them beyond 200 – at one stage even 150 seemed in substantial doubt – Miller did keep the hard-pressed Proteas’ hopes alive, provided that they were going to be suitably purposeful and polished in the field.
Three days short of his 28th birthday, Miller is still more renowned for his finishing prowess, but his willingness to graft and nudge the ball about, rather than belt it more often, went some way to sparing blushes among the more fancied side for this clash.
In partial defence of the SA side, this was one of those days where enigmatic Pakistan looked right up for the fight, and their seamers and spinners – either specialist or part-time – alike showed off a range of skills and variations.
They were also backed up by an altogether more energetic display from their fielders, after they had looked ramshackle and near-disinterested in the walloping at the same venue three days earlier from arch-rivals India.
That said, the Proteas were their own worst enemies in several instances, with injudicious shot selection accounting for several of their influential players.
The disjointed showing at the crease was hardly helped by captain AB de Villiers, whose debatable decision to take first strike may have been motivated by Pakistan’s sickly chase (164 all out) against the Indians, bagging his first ever golden duck in ODIs as he holed out to backward point.
It was his first duck of any kind in 75 innings, and continued his lean personal productivity at the Champs Trophy so far.
Wayne Parnell was another Proteas batsman to be cleaned up first ball.
Confirmation that South Africa bat relatively deep came through the precious assistance Miller got from Chris Morris at No 8 (28 off 45 balls) and then Kagiso Rabada (26 off 23).
Although the often criticised JP Duminy failed again to prosper at his main job, evidence from the Pakistani slow-bowling arsenal in the SA innings suggested he might have an important back-up role with his off-breaks to main spinner and in-form factor Imran Tahir.
*Rob Houwing is attending the Champions Trophy for Sport24. Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing