David Miller has failed to live up to his reputation as a game-changing finisher with any great consistency over the past four months.
It’s easy to ignore the failings of one player when those around him are performing to such an emphatic degree. Hashim Amla and AB de Villiers continue to show why they are rated among the best of this generation of batsmen. Faf du Plessis and JP Duminy have settled in their respective roles at No 3 and 5, while Quinton de Kock has proved he can do some real damage at the top. If the majority of that lineup fires, does it matter if Miller fails to conjure so much as a spark?
Of course it does. Since the days of Lance Klusener, ODI outfits have deployed a hard-hitting batter at the end of an innings. They call this player the finisher, the man who lifts the run rate significantly at the death to either increase the pressure on the side batting second or to eclipse a formidable target.
Miller fits the description, but only to a point. Unlike Klusener and Albie Morkel before him, he is yet to apply that obvious talent with any great consistency. The stats confirm that he has only come off on two occasions this season. It must be a concern for coach Russell Domingo as the 2015 World Cup draws closer.
The Proteas have played some great cricket over the past four months, and have scored some notable series victories in Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe, and most recently New Zealand. They must not, however, kid themselves into believing that this is as good as it gets.
Miller did his job in that first fixture of the ODI series against Sri Lanka. The powerful left-hander came to the crease at the end of the 42nd over, when South Africa were 239-4. A blistering 36* off 21 balls catapulted the Proteas to a total of 304.
Since then, Miller has fired on only one other occasion (the knock of 45 against Zimbabwe in Bulawayo). Apart from those two scores, Miller has battled to meet the requirement.
I’m familiar with the argument that it is the duty of a finisher to take chances, and that a high-risk/high-reward approach is not always going to be successful. And yet, it cannot be said that South Africa is getting the best out of Miller at the end of an innings.
Miller struggled to get going on the tour to New Zealand, missing the first clash because of flu, and then scoring 7 in the second. In the third fixture, which was eventually called off because of rain, he scored 17 off 29 balls.
Domingo should back him when the Proteas travel to Australia for a series of Twenty20Is and ODIs. But that faith needs to be rewarded with performances that are in line with his talent.
It’s important that he fires in Australia this November, not only in the context of that series, but also in the context of the 2015 World Cup. As far as the South African batsmen are concerned, Miller is the one player who is yet to show that he belongs in that formidable lineup.