Miller the weakest link in middle order
"Can you imagine if we wrote Jacques Kallis off after his first 12 ODIs?" HD Ackerman, former South Africa Test batsman, asked. It would have meant aborting a career that has, so far, spanned 307 ODIs, seen over 11,000 runs, including 17 centuries, and boasts an average of 45.84.
It's unfathomable to think that such an illustrious career should have been cut short based on Kallis' first 12 ODIs; in those, he only managed 203 runs, at an average of 25.38, with one half-century. That's Ackerman's answer when he is asked if he thinks David Miller has done enough in his short time as a national cricketer to warrant a place in the South African team. Miller has played in 12 ODIs and averages 26.50, slightly more than Kallis did at the same stage, but has not set the stage alight as much as was expected.
In a shaky-looking middle to lower order, that consists of Miller, Johan Botha and the tail, it seems Miller is the weakest link. Ackerman has been one of Miller's strongest backers and said that in time, he can become the strongest member of the middle order. "The selectors and the fans are going to be have to patient with him. He is only 21-years old but he has massive potential to represent South Africa in all forms of the game."
Patience is not something South Africa can afford to have in abundance for the next few weeks, because the World Cup is looming. "People are going to ask questions about him [Miller] because of the World Cup. South Africa are desperate to win the World Cup, so they want the best side possible," Ackerman said. Miller's position, at No.6 or 7, will be a crucial one according to Ackerman, because it will require batsmen to be able "to play spin well."
Ackerman saw the two places being contested between Miller, Colin Ingram and Faf du Plessis, with du Plessis guaranteed a spot if Ackerman was the man choosing. "Faf hasn't played yet but he has the advantage of being able to bowl, which neither David or Colin do. He is also a fine fielder. The other two are also good fielders, but Faf is better than both of them."
Essentially, that means Miller and Ingram will fight it out for the remaining berth and Ackerman backed Miller to take it, saying his true batting style had not been allowed to come out at national level yet, but was lurking. "The David Miller I saw get out on Wednesday was not the David Miller I know. He is a good, clean hitter of the ball and he was trying to nudge and nurdle and he got out."
Miller made a name at the Dolphins for being a big hitter but Ackerman said that didn't mean Miller can't rotate the strike in the middle overs if needed. "When I say he is a big hitter, I mean that he gets the ball to the sweepers, the deep covers, the mid-offs. He doesn't just drop the ball and run, he hits it well and far. He can still take a single or a two off those shots." As for sticking to that skill and not getting bogged down into playing differently to what he is used to, Duncan Fletcher, the team's batting consultant, felt that ability would come with time. "All it needs is a little bit more experience I guess," he said.
Ingram, who has more of that experience at the domestic level and has fared better in his nine ODIs than Miller has in his 12, may be the more automatic choice in the subcontinent for that reason. Ingram is currently standing in for Kallis in No.3 position, and it may be a tricky task for him to move down the order, according to Ackerman. "For him to be taken to the World Cup and have to bat six could be difficult. The No.3 and No.6 roles are completely different and it will need a total change of mindset."
Kallis is not going to play any part in the ODI series, which means Ingram will probably stay at No.3 for the remaining four matches and not have any time lower down the order. Ackerman felt that experience was vital but added that the line-up may shift as South Africa get within sniffing distance of the ICC showpiece. "If South Africa go three-nil up in the series, then we will start seeing them use their game-plan that they want to carry into the World Cup." With conditions in South Africa very different to what they will experience in the subcontinent, they can't afford to experiment with their World Cup combinations before securing the series. Whatever happens, Ackerman hopes Miller will be part of it.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent