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'I feel extremely backed' - David Miller explains his success at Gujarat Titans

"A lot of people counted David Miller out but for us he was always a match-winner," says Hardik Pandya

Sidharth Monga
Sidharth Monga
David Miller has always performed an unenviable role in T20 cricket: that of a finisher without an added bowling skill. It is by its nature a job where you fail more often than succeed. You don't get to chalk up the big runs to seduce the decision-makers with traditional stats. And when you go to play in leagues not in your country, you find it difficult to get one of the limited overseas slots.
Miller has seen that all his career, probably the most at his last franchise, ironically the one he helped beat in the first Qualifier with an innings both precise and scintillating. Before this IPL began, Miller told ESPNcricinfo's Matt Roller how frustrating it had been to not get a run in what is already a fickle role.
"[Was it frustrating?] Yeah, for sure," Miller said. "Rajasthan have had their overseas players, and they've been pretty big on just setting their four overseas and that's it. It has been quite frustrating, not really being able to play for the past couple of years. I suppose it's been something that I've learned over time where I can work in the off-season and get a positive mindset around not playing instead of sulking. It's just about trying to be positive around the group. Looking to Gujarat Titans, I'm really excited for the new team there. It's a fresh start so I'm looking to make my claim there."
This was far from having a go at Royals. It was indeed difficult to nail down a place there with three spots claimed by Jos Buttler, Jofra Archer and Ben Stokes. Miller has come a long way from the hitter that first emerged in that manic Kings XI Punjab season with catchphrases about hitting it out of the park if it was in his arc. With time, the ruthless T20 sides stopped giving anything in his arc. To still go on and have his best season in the IPL eight years later is a remarkable achievement, and to Miller it is all down to the backing he has received.
"I think opportunity firstly," Miller told Star Sports when asked what has changed. "I have been given a good role and a good extensive run in the team. I felt extremely backed from the onset. My personal game, I am really enjoying my role. I have been playing for many years now, and I think I am just understanding my game a lot better. I think in high-pressure situations you tend to sort of go away from your game plan but I feel like I am trying to keep everything together as close as possible to my game plan."
You might even argue they backed him more than Miller did himself. Go back to the Punjab Kings game where he tried to hand over the strike to the set batter, the captain Hardik Pandya, which resulted in Pandya's run-out. That was a rare moment when Pandya made a show of emotion. To Pandya and the team management, Miller has been a match-winner from the time they went to the auction table. They seem to have identified him as someone who needs to be shown some love.
"I am genuinely proud of the way he has lifted his game," Pandya said at the post-match press conference. "He is genuinely a damn good guy. So I was proud to kind of play with him, and enjoy. Simply he is a wonderful guy. I always wanted good things to happen to him. And it kind of shows if you show love and importance to an individual player, he can flourish and how.
"A lot of people counted David Miller out but for us he was always a match-winner from the time we bought him at the auction. What he did today we always expected from him. But for us it was important to give him the importance, give him that love and give him the clarity as to what we expect from him. And if he fails, it's okay; it's just a game."
It certainly didn't look like just a game when Pandya was run out against Kings, but that day Rahul Tewatia came to their rescue with two sixes off the last two balls to win the match, a real turning point in their journey of enjoying being a team.
"The joys of the IPL," Miller said when asked if he walked into the side with any trepidation. "You play for different teams. And in franchise cricket now around the world, you get to meet different players. I knew quite a few players already but it was a new team so there are a few little butterflies here and there and guys are getting to know each other properly as a team. But after that first win we had that was pretty close, I think from there everything sort of aligned and we sort of made it a habit."

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo