David Miller had the potential to be among the world’s most potent T20 players. He has flirted with mediocrity throughout his career, but the World Cup is his defining moment, writes RYAN VREDE.
I last wrote about Miller as the primary subject in late 2020. I then lamented his stalled Indian Premier League career and how that would impact the Proteas. At the time he had left the Punjab Kings for the Rajasthan Royals, where he’d play one match before being dropped.
Following the tournament’s restart in the UAE, Miller played three matches, batting twice for scores of 7 and 15. He arrives at the World Cup undercooked, but his 20* off 10 deliveries against Afghanistan on Monday suggests that won’t be terminal.
Indeed, he has been among the Proteas’ form T20 batsman over the past year. Miller averages 48.33 in his past 10 T20I innings. It would be remiss not to note that the average is helped by two not-outs against Ireland, but it is impressive nonetheless.
Yet, I still carry more hope than certainty when it comes to Miller, despite him being 90 T20Is deep into his career.
Perhaps it’s his T20 World Cup record that tempers expectation. He averages just 18.85 across nine innings in the format’s showpiece tournament.
Drilling down further, perhaps those reservations are partly attributable to his record against the pool’s elite opponents, England and Australia. In 10 innings against the former, Miller averages 22.28, and in 14 against Australia, he averages 26.77. Both these fall well short of his career average of 31.67.
That average falls to 19.62 across nine innings against the pool’s dark horses, the West Indies, and 24.66 in 13 innings against Sri Lanka, who are strong favourites to qualify for the Proteas’ pool.
This illustrates the concerns around Miller. It appears that his powers wane against highly competent T20 bowling attacks. There are factors that would directly affect his performance in the aforementioned matches, not least of all a top-order collapse which forces him to be more conservative. That aside, his talent compares favourably with the game’s best middle-order batsmen. Yet, his return on that talent does not.
In the buildup to the IPL, ESPNcricinfo.com’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.’
But does he? There is an abundance on offer in his potential, certainly. But the conversion of potential to match-defining performance is what matters, particularly in a Proteas batting lineup desperately short on X factor. Furthermore, there is no obvious replacement for Miller as a finisher, compounding the Proteas’ desperation for the 32-year-old to excel.
It was hoped that Heinrich Klaasen would provide competition in this context, but he has failed to take numerous opportunities to establish himself in this regard. It appears international T20 cricket is a step too high for him.
So, in the context of the Proteas’ challenge, it matters that Miller is more than a potential gamebreaker. It matters that he becomes that, and exhibits his soaring gifts consistently.
Failure to do so would be a travesty in a team and individual sense.