As Faf still flatters to deceive, it’s time for David Miller to stake a claim in the five-day game

2013-11-15 00:00

IT’S great to see the Proteas finish off their tour to the UAE against Pakistan with a vengeance, coming back strongly to dominate the one-day series and hitting overdrive in the first T20 on Wednesday.

Like every new cricket season that dawns, it takes a while for the players to dust off the cobwebs and perform at the level that justifies their salaries and lifestyles.

Despite being the number one Test playing nation, standing tall at the top of the ICC rankings, the team are like a cold engine when the first Test match of the season rolls around. They put together a mediocre performance and never get out of third gear.

This time around was no different as the lads struggled to get out of the blocks and dominate in the first Test against Pakistan. We couldn’t reach 250 in either innings and were ruthlessly dealt with, losing by seven wickets with a day to spare.

The good thing was how the Proteas responded in the second Test. Graeme Smith led from the front with a double century and the boys levelled matters with victory by an innings.

Obviously, we must have a strong side to enable us to keep our spot at the top of the Test rankings. However, casting an eye over the teamsheet, there are always points for discussion, a better formula to make the Proteas stronger still.

One such talking point is the number seven/eight slot in the batting line up currently occupied by Faf du Plessis. There’s no denying he is a solid player who has the talent to perform on the sport’s biggest stage. Why else would he be in the team? Yet, he continues to deceive, more often than not failing to step up to the mark. He plays weird and wonderful shots that lead to his downfall and have people questioning whether he should be in the side. At times, it could be construed as a rush of blood to the head, failing to fully understand the match situation or, as most fans see it, plain irresponsibility.

It’s been said that at school level, Du Plessis was considered better than AB de Villiers and he has failed to live up to that expectation or stake a strong claim to such a statement.

Selected for the Test side to tour Australia a year ago, he justified his place and endeared himself to the nation with his magnificent rearguard 110* to save the second Test in Adelaide, batting for the entire final day. He had already made 78 in the first innings and followed his heroics with an undefeated 78 in the next Test at Perth. He looked a fine prospect and the selectors were rubbing their chests with pride at an inspired selection.

Alas, as the saying goes, it’s gone a little “pear-shaped” since. He scored 137 against New Zealand in Port Elizabeth at the beginning of this year, but has faded somewhat. His best effort since was only 41 against Pakistan at the Wanderers in February.

In his last six Test innings he has failed to clear the 30-run mark and his Test average of 58,50 from 13 innings is rather fluffy, although stats do not lie.

Du Plessis is always a talking point and he allows it to happen more often than not. Talk around the bar and braai is starting to focus on young Dolphins middle-order talent David Miller and his name is being touted as a worthy replacement for Du Plessis.

Miller is an important cog in the Protea ODI and T20 teams, not forgetting his IPL exploits where he is expected to be hot property in the upcoming auction for next year’s tournament.

He hits a clean ball, scores quickly and is left-handed. Former world cricket great Mike Procter has openly stated that Miller is “world class, without a doubt”.

Currently, Miller is seen as more of an asset in the shorter versions of the game, but any cricketer’s dream is to pull on the whites and play Test cricket.

At 25, Miller harbours a strong intent to play Test cricket and this season could be the launching pad to his journey. In time to come, all he will need to do is start the engines and take off.

Concerns have been raised regarding his performances in the long form of the game, which for him, is the four-day domestic Sunfoil Series.

Last season, he averaged a below par 18,40 from three matches, with 92 runs and a highest score of 41. Dolphins coach Lance Klusener saw fit to send him off to the KZN provincial side to work on his game and spend time in the middle. He played a few games, scored some runs and had a hard look at where he was at. It was a ludicrous situation — one week he was playing for the Proteas in ODIs and T20s against New Zealand while he could not make his provincial A side.

Lessons have been learnt though and Miller has started the current season a more mature player with a clearer vision of where he wants to be and what he wants to achieve.

He has already shown that in his batting, building an innings rather than blazing away from ball one.

By his own admission, he has worked hard in the off-season, focusing on his game, his technique and playing as much as he can. He is being exposed to different conditions, different surfaces, different bowlers and he is absorbing and learning all the time.

He’s still doing the business in green clothing for the Proteas but is champing at the bit to step onto the ultimate cricket stage.

He is the perfect replacement for Du Plessis (if Du Plessis continues to under- perform) and would be a perfect weapon coming in at seven.

Imagine the scene: South Africa five down for under 200. Miller walks in, makes fifty and beyond, sets up a reasonable total and the bowlers do the business.

It’s up to him to make it happen, and for the selectors to notice. His name could yet adorn the honours boards of some of cricket’s most hallowed halls.

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