Miller lives up to his potential
A sense of inevitability had come over the PCA Stadium midway through the Kings XI Punjab chase. Sitting in the dugout, Adam Gilchrist, amid helpless glances at the scoreboard, was complaining about poor umpiring decisions his side had received over the season. Royal Challengers Bangalore were bowling and fielding with the look of a side that puts up a monstrous total in a Twenty20, strikes early in the chase and then waits for the remainder of the game to play itself out. The usual questions were being asked. Did Kings XI have the pace to bowl short at Chris Gayle? Was it possible to stop AB de Villiers at the death?
Royal Challengers had reason to feel safe. The last proper batting pair was at the crease, to be followed by a bowling allrounder who had had about the worst tournament debut you could imagine with the ball. Situations can approach the improbable quickly in T20. Nearly 14 an over needed from the last seven. What do you do? If you are David Miller, you hit the cover off the ball, mostly in the 'V', and hand out rhyming threats to bowlers - V, tree, arc, park. If you are Royal Challengers, you do not drop him.
Miller had taken 14 off his previous three deliveries when Virat Kohli missed a skier and copped a blow to his jaw. Soon, the RCB big three were feeling the pressure. De Villiers, of all fielders, fumbled in the deep to allow a second, and his throw arrived exactly in the middle of the pitch. Gayle took a couple of steps and floated his first delivery down the leg side. Kohli argued with the umpire about calling a no-ball that wasn't.
Hard as it was to take your eyes off Miller's assault, you couldn't ignore the panic spreading like wildfire among the RCB bowlers. Three successive boundaries hemmed in by two dropped chances were enough to start it.
Allan Donald had said that Gayle's 30-ball century left his Pune Warriors players scared. That was the first innings of the game and Gayle went after Warriors without a care in the world. This was a chase that began at nearly ten an over. Royal Challengers were not far away from getting into the Kings XI tail. Instead, within a few minutes, theirs was between their legs.
The more RP Singh caves in under pressure, the farther he seems from the bowler who shone briefly in India colours. The more Vinay Kumar bowls short with absent venom, the harder it seems to fathom how Praveen Kumar continues to get ignored.
Perhaps Royal Challengers were unlucky to run into Miller on the night he finally pulled off what he had been threatening to in the past couple of games. He had half-centuries in unsuccessful, but close, chases against the might of Mumbai Indians and Chennai Super Kings. He was Man of the Match when Kings XI chased 186 in Mohali against Warriors, coming in at 58 for 3 and blasting 80 off 41. It hadn't been all power-hitting, though. He'd also guided a modest, but tricky, chase against Delhi Daredevils with an unbeaten 34. In August last year, he almost single-handedly clubbed Yorkshire to the Friends Life t20 title.
Miller has this ability to hit boundaries in clusters. It can quickly unnerve the fielding side, as Royal Challengers found out. Not only does it make the bowlers lose their lengths and feed Miller, but the odd good delivery also gets taken for runs. There was nothing wrong with a shortish Ravi Rampaul ball on off, but amid all the straight sixes, Miller was able to wait on it and guide it very late past short third man. By the time RP Singh came on, Miller had hit the zone. When you can stand in the crease and drive a short of a length ball for six over long-off, you are really killing it. "Killer Miller" fittingly read a placard in the crowd.
It's been three years since Miller made his international debut for South Africa. Though always noted for his big-hitting, he is not exactly a regular yet. He wasn't part of the squad for the World Twenty20 last year but has made it to the Champions Trophy side in the absence of Jacques Kallis.
Tonight, he used his father's advice about hitting in the V to make a hundred in 38 balls and dedicated it to his cousin on her birthday. Yusuf Pathan took one delivery less to make one in 2010, an innings that drew extraordinary praise from his captain Shane Warne . Gayle took eight less to get one, and a cartoon suggested a radical new field setting, with players flying around quidditch-style on brooms to stop Gayle's monster sixes. That won't be out of place for Miller, too, only the area above the V would be crowded with flying brooms.
Abhishek Purohit is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo