Miller is playing on promise rather than performance at the moment

2013-11-26 00:00

CAPE TOWN — David Miller is beginning to skate on slightly thin ice as the Proteas’ intended power finisher in limited-overs cricket.

He is understandably highly rated by those who have marvelled for some time at his lethal long-ball striking at levels below the international arena, and there is also a belief that he is a bomb only waiting to explode for South Africa.

That time, though, continues stubbornly not to arrive in any meaningful, consistent way.

In his considerable defence, it is notoriously tricky being an earmarked match-winner with the willow, whether at Twenty20 or 50 overs level, especially if you play for a team like the current SA one, where the lower order is not nearly as well-stocked in strong hitters as it used to be, when the likes of Lance Klusener and Shaun Pollock contributed fulsomely in that department.

The pressure will always be firmly on you, whether it be in providing the necessary end-of-innings pyrotechnics from a solid foundation or, almost as often, turning fortunes dramatically around from a situation where victory seems a receding prospect.

Albeit in an all too flickering capacity, the Proteas also enjoyed a period where all-rounder Albie Morkel could take games away from opponents or pull them from the fire as a demon slugger in the number-seven slot or thereabouts.

Sadly, his star waned in his later years in the green shirt, even though he has remained more reliable as a crowd-pleaser for the Chennai Super Kings in the Indian Premier League T20 landscape.

Currently Miller, now 24 and reasonably bedded down in the two one-day national squads, with 19 T20 caps and 35 ODI caps respectively, is labouring too under the weight of expectation in a side suddenly re-infected with self-doubt after successive limited-overs reverses to Pakistan at the weekend at the supposed “Fortress Newlands”.

Sunday’s defeat in the first of three ODIs was particularly unpalatable as South Africa, even fielding a fairly batting-heavy line-up, couldn’t chase down a modest target of 219.

At present it is probably necessary for them to load their batting a bit at the expense of their bowling — JP Duminy and the returned Jacques Kallis can fairly comfortably share the fifth-bowler slot, because too few of their renowned stroke players are in premier form.

A personal view, despite the latest setback, is that Duminy at number six and Miller at seven, as at Newlands, is more appropriate than five and six respectively, which would leave the Proteas — at least on paper these days — rather too lacking in genuine batting proficiency below their slots.

Miller failed to come off again at Newlands on Sunday, scoring four off 14 balls and it was not as though he lacked time on this occasion to get himself dug in; he had taken guard at 115 for five in the 26th over and you could almost say he was out twice because he survived a desperately close leg-before-wicket appeal from Mohammad Hafeez on review shortly before his real exit.

He is averaging 17 after six ODIs against Pakistan since late last month, five of them in the United Arab Emirates, and with a best effort of 37. In such iffy form, it seems unwise to tweak the team for the Port Elizabeth follow-up tomorrow by promoting Miller back up one position to accommodate an extra bowler.

Frankly, it was baffling that the Proteas saw fit to exclude the in-form Ryan McLaren at Newlands, so he must return for the Eastern Cape encounter, which South Africa have to win to stay alive in the mini-series. Given that apart from his disciplined seam bowling attributes he is looking increasingly authoritative as a batsman, McLaren has to be accommodated at or around number seven, so it is difficult not to suspect that Miller will be a PE fall guy. Miller may yet get it right for South Africa; he has youth on his side. But at the moment, he is playing rather more on possibilities than tangible delivery.

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