“His return to form, and more importantly, a clearer vision from his part, where he realized the importance of partnering an in-form batter led to a series victory in Australia, and the side would be hoping that he can bat with the same vigour in the upcoming months as well”
With the World Cup just a few months away, international teams are desperately analyzing their strengths and lack in order to get together a well-oiled unit before the multinational event gets underway. While India will be focusing on brushing up the batsmen in the middle order, Australia will be eager to adjust once the banned duo of Steven Smith and David Warner return after twelve months. Pakistan, on the other hand, would be looking to play more freely and consistently, while South Africa will hope that their young batting stars can rise to the occasion to ease the pressure on the likes of Faf du Plessis, Hashim Amla and David Miller.
Ever since the retirement of AB de Villiers, the Proteas side has failed to consistently pitch in with the willow – Aiden Markram, Reeza Hendricks and Heinrich Klassen have had a few sporadic performances here and there, but their inability to carry on series after series adversely haunted the South African squad. While their bowling unit has been further bolstered by the return of Dale Steyn, a huge disparity existed between the effectiveness of the two departments.
Barring du Plessis, who averages 62 with the bat, no batsman has even averaged 35 in the last 12 months for the team. While Amla had been South Africa’s man for all seasons, his loss of form did them no harm, as the pressure increased manifold on their skipper. Whilst du Plessis responded back in style, it was the poor run of Quinton de Kock and the likes that have been the talking point in the cricketing realm. A batter then, badly needed to step up; partner the captain and give the fiery bowlers something to play with in every game.
David Miller, nicknamed ‘Killer Miller’ has often been guilty of not living up to his reputation as one of the mightiest hitters in the game currently. Though he averages 38.61 and strikes at 101.57 in ODIs, he has often been overshadowed by the likes of Colin Munro and the West Indian smashers, who have made a name for themselves for clearing sixes at will.
For someone who made his debut eight years ago, 112 games only show the inconsistent patches that he has often hit. But with the retirement of the nation’s biggest match-winner de Villiers, it was imperative that Miller took on more responsibility in the middle.
In the past year, the batsmen from 1-7 from South Africa have averaged only 22.08 in losses, which is the tenth-lowest in the world. Even teams like Afghanistan and Zimbabwe have batters faring better than the once-formidable outfit in the interim. Not only does the above stats show that more often than not, the below-par batting has been responsible for the defeats South Africa suffered, it also gives a sense of how inconsistent and dismal the batting department has been.
In wins, the batters from the rainbow nation average 37.51, which is the eleventh best in the world in the last 12 months. With Ireland and Scotland fetching better returns from their batsmen in the past year, it was evident that South Africa relied on their bowlers to win them games on a regular basis.
While the quality of their bowling attack was so rich that they could strike on any condition, the fact that the World Cup would be held in England – a country that has seen flat tracks in abundance in the recent past – meant that maybe for the first time in over a decade, they were not going into the tourney as the favourites. They needed a player to step up and push the pedestal, and they would be mighty pleased with the way Miller has been able to do just that.
After a poor run against India – Miller scored only 116 runs from 5 ODIs and was dropped from one game – at the start of the year, and an indifferent form in Sri Lanka till the second ODI, the pressure had massively increased on the talisman to lead the way and stay put at the crease. Forming a partnership en route a competitive total was desired, and he showed glimpses of this newly attained maturity when instead of going for his shots upfront, he held his end up to score 51 in the third ODI against Sri Lanka. After Hendricks had blasted his way to an 89-ball 102, the game situation demanded a wise knock to bat the opposition out of the match.
Ensuring that the half-century was not a one-off, Miller showed off his new-found game awareness by playing alongside du Plessis in the recently-concluded series against Australia; top-scoring with 51 at Adelaide and breezing his way to a 108-ball 139 at Hobart. In both games, he stood tall with the captain, who ended with 47 and 125 in the two matches, respectively.
The Player of the Series winner, Miller had started with a four off his second ball in the third ODI, but preferred to play gently against the balls that were not in his arc. However, when he was given an overpitched ball, he made full use of the smaller boundaries, sending the ball towering over the boundary rope. He flicked the fuller deliveries, squatted the shorter ones and relied on timing more than power as he looked to play the pull shot. The yorkers were dispatched; the length balls were cleared away and the deliveries outside off stump were nonchalantly middled to perfection over cover.
His return to form, and more importantly, a clearer vision from his part, where he realized the importance of partnering an in-form batter led to a series victory in Australia, and the side would be hoping that he can bat with the same vigour in the upcoming months as well.