SA squeak in ... though gloves fit for Miller

David Miller (Gallo Images)
David Miller (Gallo Images)

Cape Town - Team composure in a tense white-baller? Far from ideal by South Africa on Tuesday, that’s for sure.

But if you chose to look at the bigger picture instead, the confirmation that David Miller can be relied upon enough as an emergency wicketkeeper, if necessary, by the Proteas was a notable positive in terms of World Cup planning.

South Africa found their new Andrew Hall, if you like, in that capacity at Newlands ... or even their Boeta Dippenaar, though his one-match stint behind the international stumps had been in a losing cause.

The Proteas won the first of three Twenty20 internationals against Sri Lanka on the novel grounds of eclipsing a Super Over slug-out after the main phase of the contest was tied.

Although the format was different, this was still a useful workout for the national side, who fielded a line-up heavily dominated by players expected to travel to CWC 2019 in England in May and were given a slightly overdue but highly welcome run for their money after the one-sided 50-overs series.

There would have been decidedly mixed feelings in the South African dressing room afterwards about how they dealt with pressure moments during this match: some aspects were decent, including the way they handled the extra “mini-match” both with bat and ball, although the down side was that they really should not have taken the fixture to the Super Over in the first place after an unnecessarily helter-skelter finish to their main chase at the crease.

So yes, there were clouds on the night, but also at least one noteworthy silver lining as Miller passed an acid, unusually dual-role examination of his cricketing package.

The obvious choice eventually as player of the match, the popular KwaZulu-Natalian first gave a highly competent display behind the stumps in a move designed to check his readiness for the task in the very likely event that the Proteas risk taking only Quinton de Kock as a specialist ‘keeper to the World Cup.

But he then batted with vital gusto on the turning track in both his first turn at the crease (41 off 23 balls) and then again as primary bludgeoner in the Super Over.

Those two knocks were less surprising, of course: more important in many ways was that he ticked the box for both confidence and tidiness as the gloveman in the main section of the match – there was no disgrace in De Kock wisely reassuming the role for the high-stakes six balls back in the field later on.

A nice, almost immediate fillip for Miller in his first-time starting role as wicketkeeper for the Proteas was Niroshan Dickwella (the Sri Lankan gloveman who ironically looked more fallible at that task on the night than his novice SA counterpart) nicking off to a wide Dale Steyn delivery from just the second ball of the match and the “debutant” bagging the catch with ease.

Miller was in the dismissal business again once Imran Tahir, the eternally demonstrative leg-spinner who bowled with huge guile and purpose, entered the attack, pulling off a stumping that was every bit as efficient and swift as you would expect from a more frontline ‘keeper.

Former Proteas captain Shaun Pollock noted approvingly in his SuperSport commentary: “It (Miller’s technique) might not be the most orthodox way of taking the ball, but as long as it is landing between the two gloves ...”

Colleague Mike Haysman, similarly, suggested Miller had taken to the task with aplomb: “He’s even perfecting the facial expressions of a ‘keeper.”

Also not surprised by the player’s assuredness in an unusual capacity for him was former Proteas bowling coach Vincent Barnes, who pointed out on Twitter that the last time he saw Miller behind the stumps was when he coached the South African side at the 2012 Hong Kong Sixes tournament.

“He was more than useful, though,” Barnes revealed, a point quite possibly backed up by the fact that SA won the event that year with a squad also including such names (but not an out-and-out gloveman) as Colin Ingram, Wayne Parnell, Robbie Frylinck and Khaya Zondo.

Miller is the first Proteas representative to begin an international match as wicketkeeper, with no prior reputation as a regular at the tricky art, since more customary top-order batsman Dippenaar stepped in on a once-off basis against the same Sri Lanka at the unfashionable venue of Tangier in the Morocco Cup of 2002, although SA ended up losing by six wickets.

Two years earlier - and again as a hastily-installed replacement for a crocked, eventually much-decorated Mark Boucher - Hall, the gutsy all-rounder, was sturdy enough acting gloveman throughout the vital third and final ODI against Australia at Melbourne’s indoor Docklands Stadium. South African won that tussle by eight runs for a 1-1 share of the series (there had been one tie).

Might Miller, unlike the other two, become more than a one-cap wonder with the gloves?

That may happen as early as Friday, and the second T20 at Centurion, where De Kock is rested ... although the wise men may opt to give a Proteas debut to exciting, in-form young Warriors ‘keeper/batsman Sinethemba Qeshile.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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