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'Killer Miller' is the Proteas' unexpected secret weapon

After making major improvements to his game, David Miller is finally playing competitively and achieving fantastic milestones. He had been written off by critics, but he just might be the perfect player to finally help the Proteas claim a first-ever ICC title
Author: Craig Lewis
Thu, Jun 16, 2022

PHOTO: CSA Twitter

Earlier this month, Proteas batsman David Miller touched down in the Maldives for a brief period of rest and recuperation. His getaway to the tropical paradise came just as his on-field exploits had propelled him onto a powerful wave of remarkable form and momentum.

That wave is now closer to a tsunami after Miller – as if on cue – delivered a batting masterclass to lead the Proteas to a stunning victory in the first T20 international against India. In reaching a winning total of 212, with Miller smashing 64 runs off just 31 balls, the Proteas achieved their highest-ever successful chase in the shortest format of the game.

Miller backed that up with a crucial cameo in the second match, and although he failed to score big in the third game of the five-match series on Tuesday, there is no doubt that he is currently viewed as one of the Proteas' most lethal weapons.

As it is, the past 10 weeks have certainly been a whirlwind for the big-hitting left-hander. Initially, Miller went unsold in the first round of this year’s player auction for the lucrative Indian Premier League. However, after being overlooked on day one, he was later snapped up by the Gujarat Titans for the equivalent of R6 million (INR 3 crore).

And indeed, When Miller eventually decides to hang up his boots and head into retirement, it may not be farfetched to suggest he could reflect on that ‘lifeline’ handed to him by the Titans as a career-defining moment.

Keep in mind that during the 2021 IPL, Miller struggled to put bat to ball. Ultimately, he managed just 124 runs – averaging 24.80 – in a forgettable campaign for the Rajasthan Royals. On the national front, he was also unable to make the desired impact at last year’s T20 World Cup in the United Arab Emirates as he faced a measly 33 balls during three innings.

Across 98 matches for the Proteas in T20 cricket, Miller has amassed 1,873 runs at an average of 32.85, but a key question persisted: Had he reached his full potential? The answer, perhaps unwittingly exposed during the latest IPL campaign, is no. Or perhaps, not yet.

Over the course of Miller’s international T20 career, he has batted predominantly at No 5 or No 6, and occasionally at No 4. By and large, his role has been defined as a ‘finisher,’ with his power-hitting seemingly suited to providing momentum towards the backend of batting proceedings.

However, the potential for pyrotechnics has often been doused by the pressure of precious little time to truly construct an innings in the shortest format of the game – especially when batting in the middle-order.

At the recently-concluded IPL, though, Miller was backed to consistently bat at No 5, where he duly accumulated a career-best 481 runs at an average of 68.71 and 142.72 strike-rate, as he led the Titans to a historic maiden title.

“This season, I’ve been batting a bit higher in the order,” he reflects fondly. “I managed to bat from the start of the season and play all the games, so it has been enjoyable that I am not in and out, and I have managed to build something the whole season and keep my confidence growing.”

After making key contributions in both the playoff game (68 not out, off 38 balls) and final (32 not out, off 19 balls), Miller quipped: “If it’s in the V, it’s in the tree. If it is in the arc, it’s out the park”.

Taken at face value, that one-liner might be misinterpreted as a cavalier approach to some carefree big-hitting. Yet, Miller has in fact proved that he has become a far more measured player at this stage of his career.

“As you play more cricket, you mature and understand the different pressures and deal with failures. You realise what works for you, what you need to do and what not,” he conceded. “I have been playing 14 years of professional cricket, so I should know my game by now. This particular IPL I’ve just been working on the tempo of my swing and the rhythm.”

It’s a clear indication that Miller is a deep-thinking cricketer, while he has also spoken of how he has worked intensively on the mental side of the game. A refreshed “mindset” was most vividly demonstrated in the way he dealt with spin at this season’s IPL. Miller went from scoring 226 runs at a strike rate of 98.68 against spin between 2016 and 2021, to scoring 206 runs at a strike rate of 145.07 this year alone, and it was no fluke.

“It’s an area that I had to improve on,” he acknowledged. “In the last three to four years, I feel like I’ve changed my mindset against spin. It’s about making sure that I impose myself when there’s a bad ball.”

It has all come together for Miller at a time when some critics – perhaps having grown increasingly exasperated by that perception of unfulfilled potential – were just beginning to write off the 33-year-old as a spent force.

However, he is far from done.

“In terms of how long I want to play for, that’s far from my mind. I’m feeling really fit,” he commented. “There are three World Cups in the next two years, so I’m just really trusting that everything aligns like it did in this IPL campaign.”

After a bit of R&R in the Maldives, Miller is now hoping to help the Proteas to a series victory in India, which will serve as a key stepping stone towards the next World Cup in Australia later this year.

With that major tournament in mind, this latest version of ‘Killer Miller’ – as he is affectionately known – suddenly looks to be the exact weapon the Proteas will need in their arsenal if they are to finally claim a first-ever ICC title.