David Miller has grown into the player many envisaged when he first played international cricket. Now to figure out where he should bat in T20 cricket, writes RYAN VREDE.
I wrote critically of Miller in 2020. That piece elicited a range of responses – most agreeing that he’d betrayed his talent, while some, including a close family member who sent an email, argued that there was context to his career that I’d ignored.
I stood by the assertions in the piece. Miller was not being picked for his IPL franchise, and I worried about how that would affect his international form, which was inconsistent at the time.
Two years on and things look completely different, particularly in T20 cricket, where Miller averages 48 in his last 10 innings for the Proteas. Setting aside a T20 World Cup in which he underperformed, only Rassie van der Dussen has been more influential in the format in the past year (Aiden Markram’s rise has been notable, too).
Critically, Miller’s strike rate of 140.63 compares favourably with some of the format’s best, including Jos Buttler (141.96), and KL Rahul (142.90).
Miller has credited Gujarat Titans batting coach Gary Kirsten for helping him make fractional improvements to key areas of his game. He has also cited conversations with one of the game’s best finishers, MS Dhoni, as being instrumental.
“He is calm and calculated. It’s not just about fours and sixes for him,” Miller told ESPNcricinfo recently. “He works out which bowlers still have to bowl. He will hit two, rotating the strike when he has to. And he tries to be there until the last over to do the finishing.”
The fruits of Miller’s off-field work are evident. I always liked his philosophy of backing himself to clear the ropes regularly, but this belied a refined touch game. Those two weapons have combined to great effect recently and have elicited the sense that he has matured into the player many expected him to be sooner in his career.
The standout feature of his last 20 T20I innings is that he has been unbeaten nine times. We can attribute this to a combination of the top-order batting well, and some exceptional performances – the best of which was a 44-ball 75 against Ireland, after walking to the crease at 38-4.
Miller’s resistance extends to the IPL, where he has been out just five times in his past 10 innings. The Titans have won four of those five matches, including one in which he scored 94 off 51 deliveries after coming to the crease at 16-3, and facing the world’s fifth-ranked T20 bowler, Rashid Khan. Miller ranks 17th on the run-scorers’ list with an average of 57.83 and has the eighth-highest strike rate of 136.07.
I’ve asserted that Miller needs to bat at No 4 for his IPL franchise. He is too good a player at that level not to. Where he bats for the Proteas is a more complex matter, though.
At present, he will go to the World Cup in October as their No 6, following Quinton de Kock, either Janneman Malan or Reeza Hendricks, Van der Dussen, Markram and Temba Bavuma.
The coaching staff has argued that this allows them the security of a tactically versatile batter in the spot – Miller is equally capable of rebuilding an innings after a top-order collapse as he is finishing it with power hitting.
To accommodate him higher up the order would mean either dropping a specialist batter, or asking one of Van der Dussen, Markram or Temba Bavuma to bat at No 6. With the exception of Van der Dussen, who has a similar level of adaptability, one can’t really see a reshuffle of this kind.
The more likely alternative is that Miller “floats”, potentially coming in at Nos 4 or 5 should the match situation allow it. This is not a novel idea, but I do believe that this version of Miller is better equipped to succeed than he has been at any stage of his career.
In the buildup to the 2021 IPL, ESPNcricinfo’s Sruthi Ravindranath asked Miller whether his best was yet to come.
“Definitely,” he declared. “I feel I’m very experienced, very well put together in my mind and a lot calmer. I’m still learning; everyone learns along the way. I’m certainly very excited about the latter part of my career and really looking forward to putting on some big performances. I’ve certainly got a lot to offer.”
He does. And where he offers the value he holds can shape the back stretch of his career, as well as the Proteas’ fortunes during this time.
What’s certain is that the Proteas are a far more potent team with this version of Miller in it.