Of David Miller and the Protean charge

Miller's has been the most prominent performance in what has been a very good South African presence in the IPL this year.

Updated: May 08, 2013 18:50 IST
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"Basically, I've never seen hitting like that in my life." When the Twenty20 carnival rolls around, you'll get variations of that statement from different people - from the erudite to the clueless, from the ones who are part of the action on the field to those who watch from a distance. But when it's Allan Donald who has made that statement, it makes you want to stop and listen.

Donald, fast-bowler supreme and someone who never backed down from a challenge, said this the day after he had watched helplessly from the sidelines as the head coach of Pune Warriors India while Chris Gayle destroyed the bowlers en route to what was, till Monday (May 6), the most comprehensive annihilation of bowlers in IPL 2013.

If Donald caught anything of the Kings XI Punjab chase against Royal Challengers Bangalore on Monday, he might have allowed himself a smile and a revision of that opinion. David Miller, who Donald would have seen plenty of as the South Africa bowling coach, did the impossible in playing an innings that shaded even Gayle's, with 101 not out off just 38 balls. He not so much snatched as nervelessly walked away with victory from the jaws of comprehensive defeat.

Miller's batting style - which will surely be classified as left-hand, in-the-tree-out-the-park - seemed almost designed to make you hold your breath in awe and finally exhale in disbelief. It was also eerily reminiscent of another left-hand batsman from South Africa who was one of the earliest exponents of turning hitting at will into an art form.

It's almost a decade since Lance Klusener retired, but when he played in the late 1990s and early 2000s, One-Day Internationals were the only mainstream limited-overs format. And Klusener scored his runs at a strike-rate of 89.92 when the average scoring rate was 79.32.

More than the rate of scoring, though, what stood out was the appearance Klusener gave of going into a hitting zone, where bowlers were reduced to videogame figures. No matter what they did or tried, Klusener would connect and the ball would travel.

In the brief time in which Miller has played in the IPL, he has given off that same aura. Against Bangalore, he was admittedly served up stuff on a juicy, hittable length far too often, but the way he took the bowlers on made you wonder if there was anything he couldn't have hit that day. He's already crossed fifty four times in seven visits to the crease this season, and his lowest strike-rate in a fifty-plus innings is a staggering 164.7, or a 9.88 run-rate.

Miller's, in fact, has been the most prominent performance in what has been a very good South African presence in the IPL this year.

Given the team structure that has to be followed in the IPL, with seven Indian players in every playing XI, it's a given that Indians are the most sought-after players. Over the past six years, the country that has found most favour after India is Australia. The perceived robust domestic set-up, and latterly the Big Bash League, have given Australian talent a stamp of some quality and a stage on which to showcase it.

More recently, it's the West Indians who have caught the imagination, their inherent flair and flamboyance coupled with outrageous athletic talent making for a natural fit with the Twenty20 format. The current season began with West Indians across the board playing starring roles in one win after another, and there's little reason to think this will change anytime soon, given the quality of players there.

Slightly under the radar though, the South Africans have been doing pretty well for themselves. In AB de Villiers and Dale Steyn, they have arguably the finest modern-day batsman and bowler, and both have lived up to that label for Bangalore and Sunrisers Hyderabad respectively. Gayle may have more runs than de Villiers and Amit Mishra and Ishant Sharma more wickets than Steyn, but both have starred alongside, rather than been the support cast, for their franchises.

Chris Morris has chipped in with crucial wickets for Chennai Super Kings, who might just end up with the tournament's best opening combination if they can fit in Faf du Plessis alongside Michael Hussey. Jacques Kallis may have pulled out of the Champions Trophy, but he's been doing alright for Kolkata Knight Riders, especially with his bowling. Surprisingly, the only one of the Protea brigade who hasn't done as well is Morne Morkel, last year's Purple Cap winner, though this might have something to do with Delhi Daredevils' strange selection policies in not giving Morkel a proper run.

South Africa are firmly established as the best Test-playing nation in the world. They've always had the talent and ability to be the top-ranked limited-overs side as well, with only their bizarre ability to bottle it at premier events holding them back.

Maybe a dose of Miller-like fearlessness is exactly what's needed to overcome the chokers' tag, starting with the Champions Trophy in June, with the 2015 World Cup the ultimate target.

Between now and then, apart from keeping his form and fitness together, all Miller has to do is ensure he and Steyn don't end up at the same end if they're batting together in a 2015 semifinal.

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