Cape Town - They used to talk excitedly of “Miller Time”. Instead it seems they’ve only called time now on David Miller.
It is difficult, regrettably, not to back the national selectors in their decision late last week to drop the big-striking batsman from the Proteas squad for a one-day international triangular against West Indies and Australia in the Caribbean next month.
After as many as 82 appearance for the country in the 50-overs format, the left-hander’s career has stubbornly tended to stay more about possibilities as a destructive boundary-hitter than any consistent delivery in that respect.
Statistics don’t exactly cry out that Miller, almost 27, has been hard done by: he averages below 35 and has not managed a half-century in any of his last 16 innings - though in fairness he did get to 49 twice.
The player happens to be in the midst of an inexplicable doldrums in the Indian Premier League, too, where he has managed a best score of only 31 in 10 knocks for the Kings XI and been relieved of the captaincy into the bargain.
Also among an exodus of big names from the unhappy Dolphins dressing room – he switches allegiance to the Knights next season – it is clear that cricketing life is not all hunky-dory for Miller at present, only increasing the logic in putting him out of his misery for the time being as a national representative.
Signs of his gradual sidelining were already present in the home ODI series against England last summer, when he could not get a single gig in the five contests, marked by South Africa’s spirited claw-back from 2-0 down to nick the spoils 3-2.
That’s a lot of “bib” time and bottle-carrying.
Miller is, or rather was, a designated middle-order finisher in the format, and you might argue that by winning that series without him, his specialist area of expertise wasn’t even missed.
But those notably high-scoring matches were largely played on true, firm “belters” which meant that in-the-groove frontline batsmen like AB de Villiers and Quinton de Kock often occupied the crease commandingly and for long enough to render a listed finisher fairly redundant - they simply did that job.
The Caribbean, by contrast, tends to offer up a pick ‘n mix of pitches; for every runs-fest venue, there is always the danger of running into another where the strip is quirky, grippy and perhaps even a tad underprepared.
Under those circumstances, it concerns me a little that the SA party looks as though it contains a solid core of “orthodox” batsmen, and similarly swollen stock of out-and-out bowlers... but not a whole lot in between in versatility terms.
In other words, there is both a lack of a go-to man for potential late-innings momentum soon after he’s taken guard (a la Miller when he is actually firing) and significant blade-wielding muscle among the bowlers.
Kyle Abbott, Imran Tahir, Morne Morkel, Aaron Phangiso, Kagiso Rabada, Tabraiz Shamsi... among them you will struggle to find someone with any meaningful track record for smashing a flurry of boundaries when that may be the urgent requirement, and likely only to give the XI a rather fluffy-looking tail.
Selection chief Linda Zondi is on record as saying he believes Rilee Rossouw could adjust into a like-for-like replacement for Miller in the No 6-type finishing capacity, and that he cracked the squad nod in what amounted to a straight shootout between the two for the Windies venture.
You can see where Zondi is coming from, given that on a good day for him Rossouw is another “leftie” who smashes the ball a fearful distance, although the vast majority of his 28 ODI innings thus far have been somewhere amidst the top five.
He has come off properly once in four cracks slightly lower down the order, albeit that that was a rapid unbeaten 61 against second-tier Ireland at Canberra in the 2015 World Cup.
I suspect that the Proteas could have a problem in the Caribbean if their established blue-chip batsmen are a bit off the boil, because the area from No 6 downward stays prone to vulnerability and both the Aussies and West Indies will know this.
South Africa may need to find room in the XI, more often than not, for both of their fast bowlers who sport all-rounder credentials, Chris Morris and the back-in-vogue Wayne Parnell, in order to lessen the look of frailty in the lower order.
The former seems to be bringing an element of increasing fearlessness and lusty aggression to his batting, allied to his favourable temperament which has already carried the country out of some notably tight spots at the crease at advanced stages of matches.
If Morris and Parnell can significantly bolster the runs-seeking cause around berths seven and eight, it will allay many of the fears regarding likely limitations below that.
Heck, the Proteas may even feel they’ve unearthed two “mini-Millers” to make up for the absent one...
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