David Miller’s measured knock in Port Elizabeth will give the player as well as the Proteas new confidence ahead of the World Cup.
In the fourth ODI against the West Indies, Miller proved that he can be the go-to man in a crisis. He arrived at the crease in the seventh over when the Proteas were struggling at 32-3. His response was unexpected.
Instead of bowing to his natural instincts and attacking every ball, he employed a more patient and measured approach. Miller fulfilled the job of a top-order player for as many as 41 overs, and once the platform had been set, he changed tactics and resumed a more familiar role.
It was a fine, two-paced performance, one more typical of AB de Villiers or JP Duminy. On Sunday, Miller showed that he too can be counted on in a crisis. Through his efforts at St George’s Park, Miller proved that he can bat deep and score game-shaping centuries. It was an important statement in the context of next month’s World Cup.
The more cynical supporters will argue that there was nothing at stake in the recent contest. They will say that nothing should be read into the performances or the result.
South Africa won the first three games against the West Indies to take an unassailable lead in the series, and made several changes to the their team ahead of the clash in Port Elizabeth. These last two games are effectively World Cup warm-ups, and some might even go as far to say the hapless West Indians have made for poor sparring partners.
The results – well, at least the first three – support this view, but a closer analysis will reveal that the West Indies’ biggest problem on this tour has been a lack of consistency. They have been competitive at times, and it’s been during those short periods where they have tested even the best of the Proteas’ contingent. The South African batsmen who have managed to respond to the pressure exerted by the tourists deserve some credit. Similarly, the bowlers who have buckled, as was the case at the death of the game at St George Park, deserve to be taken to task.
In the first 10 overs of the South African innings in Port Elizabeth, the West Indies bowled beautifully, and were rewarded with four wickets. This included the prize scalp of De Villiers. When Miller came to the crease, he was forced to adjust to the slow pace of the wicket as well as the quality of the bowling. He then took it upon himself to resurrect the South African innings.
It has to be significant that yet another member of the Proteas’ middle order is showing some mettle. In the past, the South African middle order has been blamed, and justifiably so, for succumbing to the pressure in the big games. The performances of Faf du Plessis, De Villiers and Duminy in recent months have gone a long way to alter that view. It will also encourage the Proteas management to see Miller exercising some mettle in difficult situations.
South Africa will hope for the best at the World Cup, but it bodes well that all of the batsmen in the top six have now proved themselves to be adaptable, and ready for the worst case scenario. South Africa were short a few runs in Port Elizabeth, but Miller for one could not have contributed more. The Proteas’ batsmen will take some form and confidence into the global tournament.