David Miller makes an expected mark
When David Miller hit his sixth ball on debut for South Africa for a smashing six, there would have been a few people nodding sagely and whispering, "I told you so." The 20-year old was in the spotlight throughout the recently completed domestic season, ending as the Dolphins' top run-scorer in both 40-over and 20-over competitions, and had many ex-players and administrators identifying him as a candidate for a national call up.
Miller received that call last week, while he was playing for South Africa A in a tri-series in Bangladesh. "Andrew Hudson called me up and said congratulations, I had made the side," he said. Miller admitted the chatter in the A camp at the time was about the inclusion of fresh faces in national squad, especially after South Africa's World Twenty20 exit, but didn't think he would be among those selected.
"We were definitely talking about it, especially in terms of left-hand batsman being considered. The coach [Shafiek Abrahams] was telling us that we should use the tour of Bangladesh to put in good performances and show our faces."
Miller did exactly that, ending as South Africa A's second-highest run scorer in the one-day series. He played five matches, scored 195 runs including a century, and averaged 65. That performance came after a domestic season where runs flowed despite a result drought for his franchise. Miller scored 366 in 11 MTN40 games, with an average of 40.66, and 159 in five Pro20s, with an average of 53.00.
Form that good could not be ignored, according to prominent names in South African cricket. Hugh Page, a former selector, and HD Ackerman, a former Test batsman, both called for Miller's inclusion in the national squad in the aftermath of South Africa's second-round exit at the World Twenty20. They identified him as an explosive, clean-hitting batsman and someone who could add impetus to a batting order that lacked its usual forcefulness in the Caribbean.
The chorus of calls for Miller's inclusion was loud enough but that didn't prevent the choristers from being surprised when their request was granted. Dolphins coach Graham Ford "didn't expect it to happen as early as this" and Ackerman hoped Miller's call up was not a "knee-jerk reaction."
The worry most have is that Miller would be treated as Juan Theron was. Theron, a death-bowling specialist, was included in the World Twenty20 side but did not get a game. Ford said he had discussed that with Miller because a lot of younger players, who were brought into the side simply to become accustomed to the feel of international cricket, ended up feeling like a spare tyre. "If that does happen, use it is an opportunity to learn, absorb information and see how the system works," Ford told him.
Ford's fear was allayed when Miller made his debut earlier than expected in the second Twenty20 international against West Indies. That was the ideal place for Miller to be unveiled according to Ackerman, who believed there was less pressure on a player who made his first appearance in a Twenty20, compared to one introduced to international cricket in a one-dayer. "In an ODI if you hit two sixes and get out, people think you aren't good enough, but if the same thing happens in a T20, people don't really frown upon you."
Miller did hit two sixes but he didn't get out immediately after, and ended up as South Africa's highest run-scorer in the match. He made 33 off 26 balls and rescued the innings from a shaky 59 for 5 to a competitive 120 for 7. In doing so he achieved what he described as his ultimate goal, albeit for now. "It's my dream to play a game and if I am given the opportunity, I will give it everything," Miller had told Cricinfo on the night that he left for the West Indies.
Miller also said he saw himself slotting in best in the middle order, which is where he was used, but that he was given no indication of what was expected of him until he arrived. He appeared to have no problems fitting into the set up, something experts would have told you they suspected would happen all along.
Ford sees a long-term role for Miller in both forms of the limited-overs game. "He is very effective in the Powerplays and we also used him for some big hitting towards the end of the forty-over game. In T20s, I think he will be a real force upfront."
Ackerman hoped Miller would be managed properly, because he believed including him in the team is a long-term investment. "He has what it takes to make it at the highest level. He is a natural stroke player and I hope that never gets taken away from him."
Firdose Moonda is a freelance writer based in Johannesburg