Miller: 'I've really enjoyed challenging myself against the PSL death bowlers'

The South Africa batter on taking mental-health breaks, data-driven analysis, his attachment to Multan Sultans, and more

Danyal Rasool
Danyal Rasool
David Miller - "In Pakistan, if you get used to the bounce, you can hit through the line and make sure you're body position is a bit lower"  •  PCB

David Miller - "In Pakistan, if you get used to the bounce, you can hit through the line and make sure you're body position is a bit lower"  •  PCB

December is perhaps the busiest time of year for an international cricketer, the festive season throwing up fixtures around the world in all formats and numerous franchise leagues, but that month in 2022, David Miller was nowhere to be found on a cricket field. On Christmas Eve, he posted a picture of himself unwinding at a nature reserve in his native South Africa, while the South African side was gearing up for the Boxing Day Test in Melbourne, and the Big Bash League, where he once played for the Hobart Hurricanes, was picking up steam.
Since South Africa's elimination from the T20 World Cup in November, Miller had largely kept himself away from cricket, aside from an 11-day stint at the T10 League in Abu Dhabi. Despite being one of the most in-demand players on the T20 circuit, Miller has developed and nurtured interests outside the game, fishing and photography among the more prominent ones. The break he took at the backend of last year, spending time with family and friends was much-needed, because the months that would follow were to be among the busiest in his career.
He had been named captain of the Paarl Royals in the inaugural season of the SA20, and was to link up with the Multan Sultans in the PSL just days later; there were just five days between the SA20 semi-finals in Johannesburg and his first game in Multan at the PSL. Having only ever played three PSL games before - for Peshawar Zalmi in a truncated season in 2021 - he was given a baptism of fire, thrust in chasing 10 runs an over at the death against a Lahore Qalandars bowling attack that included Shaheen Afridi, Haris Rauf and Zaman Khan. It posed different challenges to the SA20, particularly in a league where he had almost no experience.
But Miller has worked out ways to cope with the schedule, and the varying demands each tournament poses. "I think it's all mental," Miller tells ESPNcricinfo. "It's about being prepared for what's coming ahead. I knew I was coming to the PSL after the SA20. I knew mentally I was going there all along, and you mentally prepare yourself with that journey for the next couple of months. I took December off with family and friends, took a really nice break and felt I was refreshed for the next six months. It can be challenging going from one place to another, but as long as you're mentally prepared beforehand, it makes it a lot easier to perform for those competitions.
"There's a lot of cricket nowadays, internationally and leagues. Your schedule can get quite busy. I just listen to my own body, especially at this time of my career. I don't want to play so much cricket I'm feeling mentally fatigued. It's just about listening to your body and knowing when you need a break. And just to be honest about that. There's a lot of money involved in cricket nowadays. So it's important to make mature decisions about whether you really need a break or if you can keep going."
We're at by the swimming pool at the luxury Pearl Continental Hotel in Lahore on a pleasant early March afternoon. As a heavily guarded, fortified compound, it's the venue of choice for all PSL teams, as well as any visiting sides since international cricket trickled back to Pakistan in 2015. In some ways, he could be anywhere - India, South Africa, Bangladesh - as the T20 franchise circuit blends into a blur of airports, hotels, glitzy opening ceremonies, boundaries and wickets. In an earlier interview with ESPNcricinfo, his international team-mate Rilee Rossouw said it was like being a "T20 gun for hire".
Miller acknowledges that characterisation, but still calls himself a "team player". "The way leagues are going now, lots of teams are buying other teams around the world," he points out. "So you do feel attached to certain teams. I've always had a mindset of playing to the best of my ability whoever I play for. I'm a team player and I do quickly get attached to a team. I enjoy all the teams that I play for, and it's just about contributing for that team at that moment."
"I'm not a massive one on analysis. I definitely will sit down and kind of go through a certain bowler if he's got a different action or a different craft with the spin"
Even so, Miller knew there were certain ways the PSL stood out, and he wanted to challenge himself. His previous stint at the PSL comprised just three games in a Covid-hit season with Zalmi, though the signs had been encouraging, and he had scored 116 runs at 140. Days before we speak, he'd clobbered a 25-ball 52 against Islamabad United, setting up a big win over the two-time champions.
"My experience in Pakistan is the wickets are actually pretty good. I think maybe the bounce might be a bit different to other countries, where it's a little bit lower. It's not that steep sharp bounce. If you can get used to the bounce, you can hit through the line and make sure your body position's a bit lower. That's one of the key areas.
"I'd watched bits and pieces of the PSL over the years and what I've taken from that is the bowling is really good. Pakistan always produce really good fast bowlers. They've also got world-class spinners. An overseas player coming in as a batter, it's a good competition to be a part of. It challenges you in many different ways. That definitely makes the PSL a stand out for me with the kind of death bowling that they've got and the pace they've got as a nation. It definitely does challenge you and I'm really enjoying the fact that I can be in that position to challenge my skill."
Miller's come into the PSL at a time when one battle of ideas has already been won and lost, and he now plays for a side that was at the forefront of winning it. In the early years of the tournament, Islamabad United were among the pioneers for an analytics-heavy, data-driven approach to squad recruitment and in-match decision-making, prioritising batting fluidity and ideological flexibility to optimise match-ups between certain batters and bowlers.
It appeared to bear results, with United winning two of the first three years; they remain the only multi-trophy side in the league. The Sultans, who came into existence in 2018, picked up the analytics baton, and have made the final each of the last two years, winning the title in 2021. By now, nearly all teams use that sort of forensic date for decision-making, even Lahore Qalandars, who in the early years would have been top of the table in their opposition to favouring information over feel and instinct. However, they were bottom of the actual table each of the first four years, so a change was inevitable. They are now the defending champions.
Many players, however, are famously lukewarm about the role of data in their individual decision-making, and Miller is no different. "I've been playing around the world for some time, he says after a long pause. "You kind of understand what different players can do on the field. I'm not a massive one on analysis. I definitely will sit down and kind of go through a certain bowler if he's got a different action or a different craft with the spin. It takes some time to look through that, but generally I feel most bowlers are the same in terms of their action and the height the ball comes from. Unless it's something drastically different, in which case I'll take some time to analyse. I think it is important just to know what you're up against in a game.
"Captaincy's a bit different. For me to know exactly what the opposition have I'll do a lot more analysis in that sense, as there's a bit more responsibility on decision-making. If something goes really badly for the bowler, that's where I step in and give them different options as I know where their strengths and weaknesses are as a captain."
Multan are now in the playoffs for the fourth straight season, as are his old side Zalmi. Miller won't be part of the final charge, leaving to link up with South Africa's ODI squad for a series against the West Indies. Ask him which of the two PSL sides he's enjoyed his experience with more, and that answer comes back fairly quickly. "Multan Sultans."
He does get attached to teams fairly quickly, after all.

Danyal Rasool is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @Danny61000