“If it’s in the V, it’s in the tree; if it’s in the arc, it’s out of the park”
The quote above evokes clear thinking. David Miller, who made his international debut on this day in 2010 against West Indies, had these words instilled into his mindset by his father from a very early age. Needless to say, the clear thinking helped him stamp his name on the cricketing world as Killer Miller.
He was drafted into South Africa’s limited-overs’ side for their tour of West Indies in 2010 as a young 20-year-old for his penchant to hit boundaries. In with a chance to represent the Proteas in the 2011 World Cup, Miller missed the bus with only one half-century in 19 white-ball games (13 ODIs + 6 T20Is).
But post World Cup was to belong to the new crop of South African players. Miller was a firm part of that. Equipped with power to clear the ropes at regular intervals, Miller was assigned the role of the finisher.
Alongside instilling the aforementioned phrase in his mindset, Miller accepted his father’s advice to frame his technique as well. Unlike most of the modern-day finishers, the southpaw doesn’t have any kind of ramp shots in his repertoire. His power-hitting is purely based on clean striking down the ground based on conventional strokeplay.
During his first T20 hundred - an unbeaten 101 from 38 balls - where he won the game out of nowhere for Kings XI Punjab, Miller scored the majority of his runs in the arc between mid-wicket and cover. He struck sixes over long-off off both full and back-of-a-length deliveries.
At one point in the game, Punjab required 133 to win from 66 deliveries in that game with six wickets in hand. Miller took the side home with 12 balls to spare also notching up his hundred in the process - all on the basis of classical power-hitting which makes him an extremely captivating batsman to watch when it is his day.
The opposition skipper Virat Kohli, who dropped Miller’s catch before he went berserk, termed it as one of the best T20 knocks he has seen. The innings also gave birth to the tag of ‘Killer Miller’.
Miller had been a consistent T20 performer prior to that day. But that knock, in 2013, changed his life. He became the talk of the town of the whole T20 circuit around the globe. He came equally good in 2014. He hammered 446 runs for Punjab forming a destructive alliance with Glenn Maxwell to carry the franchise to their first ever IPL final. He was now counted as one of the top T20 batsmen in the world.
Though there were still question marks if he could bat sensibly when the situation demands. South Africa headed into the 2015 World Cup after Jacques Kallis’ retirement. Though they had Hashim Amla, Quinton de Kock, AB de Villiers and Faf du Plessis in their prime, the number five spot was still vacant. Miller wanted to put his hand up for it. He was promoted above JP Duminy and justified the move wonderfully quite early in the tournament when South Africa were 83 for 4 against Zimbabwe. From a precarious situation, he scored an unbeaten 138 from 92 balls.
To begin with, it took him 38 balls to bring his first boundary. In the meantime, he did not even let the run-rate dip drastically as he maintained a decent strike-rate of 78 by churning the singles. Once he grew in confidence, he drove into fifth gear going unbeaten at a strike-rate of 150. In a 256-run stand with Duminy, he was the senior partner as they resurrected South Africa.
It was the innings that augmented the hopes pinned on Miller. It was the kind of performance which elevates the career of a sportsman. For Miller, there were two such hundreds now, one showed his ability as a power-hitter, the other one displayed him as a pragmatic batsman who could adjust accordingly.
He continued to play crunch knocks. In the first T20I against Australia in March 2016 in Durban, Miller took South Africa home in a run-chase of 157 from a position of 95 for 6 in 13 overs. He hit a fluent 53* off 35 balls which also won him the man-of-the-match award. Seven months later, against the same opposition and at the same venue, he scored a magnificent 118* in South Africa’s pursuit of 372. He batted six coming in at 179 for 4. Three ODIs later, he amassed his fourth ODI ton - 117* against Sri Lanka.
However, the plane of ascendancy Miller had promised to board did not keep its flight for as long as he would have wanted. Post the 2017 Champions Trophy, Miller averaged only 21 each in the 2017/18 and 2018 season. The demands for the racial quota to be met in the side also increased the pressure on him.
His stocks dipped in the IPL as well. Like his franchise, the left-hander had moderate success post 2014. Elected as skipper in 2016, he was stripped off the role in the middle of the season after Punjab lost five out of the first six games. He averaged 16 with the bat and played only eight games for Punjab in the next two seasons before being finally dropped from the side post 2019.
In the meantime, he belted Bangladesh for what is now the joint-fastest hundred in T20Is (35 balls) in October 2017. But that hardly helped his cause as Miller found himself under pressure to guarantee a spot in the 2019 World Cup side.
With critics to answer again, Miller rewinded the clock back to his World Cup hundred in 2015. Batting at five with skipper du Plessis against Australia in Hobart in 2015, Miller arrested the collapse which had Proteas at 55 for 3. He scored 139 in a 252-run stand with his captain to propel South Africa to 320.
Cementing his spot in the side for the nth time, Miller went without a fifty up until February this year. For a guy who has spent a decade in international cricket, the Protea batsman has had too many bumps in his career.
In IPL, the left-hander, who was once bought for INR 6 crore was taken at his base price of INR 75 lakh by Rajasthan Royals this year. That is a reflection of his plummeting death overs’ strike-rate which has fallen from 202.9 up until the 2015 season to 143 since 2016. However, just like his ODI career, he is holding onto his value in T20 cricket as well. He struck a terrific 48-ball 90 in a lost cause for Hobart Hurricanes in the Big Bash this January.
With age still on his side, the innings showed there’s life still left in his professional career. The retirements of Amla, Duminy alongwith du Plessis who is not far away from hanging up his boots, Miller will be the senior-most man in South Africa’s batting unit if he is a part of the 2023 World Cup, which he has said he is keen to be. But whether he will circumvent the hurdles chaining him from achieving his true potential, remains to be seen. In between, there also lies his dream of playing Test cricket which has so far remained just a dream.