David Miller's approach at the crease and ability to create run-scoring opportunities need strengthening if he is hopes to find form again, according to former South Africa captain Graeme Smith. Miller last scored a half-century 10 ODI innings ago, and the drought has raised concerns about his technique and the impact of his failures on a middle-order that is missing JP Duminy, who is on paternity leave. Smith, also a left-hander, has identified what may be wrong.
"Looking at David Miller now, there were a few ways to get him out: lbw, caught behind and with the short ball. He wants to get to a point where he lines himself up a little bit better with his front foot and gets his head to go to the ball and allow himself to play through mid-on and straight," Smith said while doing analysis for SuperSport during Sunday's second ODI between South Africa and New Zealand.
Miller was out for 5, leaving South Africa 76 for 4, when he leaned forward to play a Doug Bracewell delivery that was angled in towards the pads, took some extra bounce and then the leading edge as he closed the face of the bat too early. In dissecting the dismissal, Smith demonstrated how Miller had not lined up his head and his front foot, which resulted in him being off balance and unable to play the ball as intended.
"David technically falls across himself which then causes him problems. You want to get yourself into a position where you are in a press," Smith explained while mimicking the slightly compressed position that batsmen employ while getting ready to face a ball, ready to spring to action. "The only batter I have seen in world cricket who didn't press was Matthew Hayden. For everyone else, you want to get into a nice strong position where your head and front foot are lined up and you can move them together."
Smith recommended Miller look to another southpaw, Rilee Rossouw, who has been getting himself into good positions consistently. "Look at Rilee, he sets his front foot nicely so lbw is not an option, his front foot and his head are aligned and they are moving in one direction," Smith said.
This is particularly important if Miller is in earlier in the innings, when the ball is still new and possibly moving around. "The new ball is the key factor here," Smith said. "There's options to get out against the new ball because it's going to seam, it's going to swing and in the middle order you don't often get those situations, you might get pace off the ball but I think if David sets up a little bit more for the swinging ball and gets that front foot into a slightly better position, he can be a better off-side player."
Learning to line up better is not as easy as Smith makes it sound so he also had some pointers on what Miller and South Africa's coaching staff can do in training to help make the adjustments. "There were two different training methods for me. There was trying to get used to conditions and in my net practices it was about setting up for what I was going to face out in the middle and then I would go away and if I wanted to work on confidence or shot making, I'd do that by myself in a quiet area," Smith said. "It's about understanding what you need to do in your net practices, the type of bowlers you are going to be facing, the conditions and you train accordingly. And then it's about going away and working on the areas of your game you want to work on or building confidence in terms of your shot-making. "
Miller would likely need to do both by realising the New Zealand bowlers, and doubtless others who will study video footage, have identified that he is not hitting as straight as he used to and is a candidate for overbalancing and mishitting. Not only has that hampered him technically but it could have a mental impact too as Miller questions his own ability, which Smith believes can improve beyond being a death-hitter.
"David is such a crucial part of South Africa's line-up. You want to grow him to become a better all-round batter for South Africa because a man of his ability could really change games," Smith said. "He is a better player than being restricted to the last 10 or 15 overs. If he can learn to bat situations and coaches can grow his technique to a point where he can start playing Test cricket, he can be successful. If he can build that technical side of his game and find a way to line up a little bit straighter with his timing and ability, he is a very difficult guy to bowl to."