Why Miller's not 'new Zulu'

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

Cape Town - David Miller may well have produced his big breakthrough innings in one-day international cricket, but we should be just a tad wary of branding him some sort of modern answer to Lance Klusener in the Proteas team.

Comparisons are so easy to make: they are left-handers with a ridiculous ability to propel even very decently-pitched deliveries powerfully and disrespectfully over the long-on ropes -- and of course elsewhere, too – while both men hail from the lush, humid fields of KwaZulu-Natal.

Certainly memories of Klusener’s near-unique brand of late-innings fireworks came decisively to the fore as Miller provided the overdue wake-up call to a dithering South African team of recent months, his 85 not out off 72 balls giving AB de Villiers’s admirably motivated troops the sniff they needed subdue Sri Lanka in the third ODI at Pallekele on Friday and narrow the series gap to 2-1 with two to play.

With the fourth encounter to be played at the same venue on Sunday (11:00 SA time), and the visiting frontline seamers clearly relishing the extra bounce and some nocturnal nip on offer, suddenly it does not look beyond the bounds of possibility that the Proteas can square matters at 2-2 and take the conflict to a once-unlikely decider back in Colombo next Wednesday.

The result, bearing in mind recent difficulties and even with certain frailties still worryingly evident, will have been an enormous fillip to the squad, emphatically ending a barren ODI run for the country in these parts stretching back an incredible two decades.

As much as any other personality in the touring midst, new coach Russell Domingo will have been a relieved man to bank such a meritorious victory from a backs-to-the-wall situation.

It must be said that tactically, South Africa got their ducks superbly in a row on Friday.

For one thing, they crucially freshened the match-day mix, introducing Lonwabo Tsotsobe, Farhaan Behardien and Quinton de Kock for their first games of the trip, and all three played their part in the renaissance to varying degrees.

Had it not been for Miller’s heroics at the crease, which critically lifted the Proteas to a properly competitive total after they had receded again to a dangerously sub-standard 154 for seven with just eight overs left of their innings, Tsotsobe would have been just as strong a candidate for the player-of-the-match award.

The tall left-arm seamer equalled his best ODI bowling figures of four for 22, first achieved against India at the Wanderers in January 2011, and importantly struck key early blows in the ‘Lankan reply bid – mind you, Morne Morkel’s aggression and parsimony at the other end was also manna from heaven.

Young De Kock taking the wicketkeeping gloves, and doing a smart job, freed up slightly embattled skipper De Villiers to put more thought into his on-field plans as a rank-and-file fielder, even if the move doesn’t necessarily signal that it will become more commonplace ahead.

And the gamble of playing Behardien, to lengthen the batting on paper at a time when it remains an area of some weakness, paid off well.

Entrusted with the tricky responsibility of having to serve as the fourth seamer on the night in a curtailed specialist attack, his niggly little medium-pacers largely worked a treat under harsh examination – of course there is similarly no guarantee that this is a consistently workable solution down the line, and it is likely to remain strictly a horses-for-courses option.

The other part-timer in the bowling mix, JP Duminy, came within just four balls of bowling a rare “maximum” stint of 10 overs, and had he done so would almost certainly have recorded easily his most economical figures yet for a full quota of off-spin.

Miller? As mentioned earlier, he will increasingly tempt many South African fans to drag the “Zuuuulu” chant out of the archives.

The 24-year-old showed marvellous early application under pressure on Friday, and then built up to a booming climax of clean boundary-hitting, where even veteran pace merchant Lasith Malinga was not spared a nasty, eleventh-hour pasting.

Miller, though, is a slightly different beast and in some ways there may be greater pressure on him to produce the batting goods a lot of the time than there was on revered lower middle-order predecessor Klusener.

It needs to be remembered that Klusener was a genuine all-rounder in an ODI team often loaded with them anyway ... keep in mind that a heyday-period Jacques Kallis and usefully versatile Hansie Cronje were near constant elements of the arsenal.

And at the bottom end of the innings, even if he didn’t come off, there was always a Pollock or a Boucher to assist smartly in natural “finishing” abilities.

Miller doesn’t offer a bowling string to his bow, so whenever he plays the balance of the team will have to be carefully assessed, and as a result the onus on him to produce his brand of known magic will only swell.

The Proteas tail, as presently constituted, doesn’t glow with big-hitting prowess like it used to do, so it will be vital that Miller has the best possible opportunity to still be at the crease when the slog is on.

There’s a delicate dynamic to chew on: you want him blazing away in the closing overs, yet as one of the last specialist willow-wielders ahead of a questionable tail, it is just as crucial that he isn’t sacrificed too quickly.

But there is also a case for saying that, given his potential for real destructiveness, the more time he has in the middle the better!

Klusener often produced his best, crowd-pleasing striking as a No 8 or 9, and thus from behind a stronger platform a lot of the time.

With Miller either a No 6 or 7 – personally, I favour the latter when feasible – there will be greater responsibility on him to play “properly” for a while.

Pleasingly, in Friday’s stirring win, the man excelled for both common sense and a measured approach initially, and then trademark pyrotechnical lustre in the death-overs blitz.

It bodes well for both player and country, you’d think.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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