How long does it take to come good again in IPL? Quite a while, if you are David Miller, considering Sunday’s 94 not out against Chennai Super Kings was only his third fifty-plus score since 2016. But among the top-five scores coming at No 5 or lower, Miller is also the only batter to have featured twice on that list—Sunday’s knock and an unbeaten 101 for Kings XI Punjab against Royal Challengers Bangalore in 2013.
A far more consistent batter in international cricket, Miller’s IPL numbers are much less appealing. A contributing point could be Miller’s struggle against spin. Besides, at No 5 or 6, you rarely get enough balls to score a fifty in a T20 match.
But the stars aligned for him on Sunday. “It does take me down memory lane (referring to the hundred for KXIP),” said Miller. “It was sort of ‘play my game, see ball hit ball’. With the (asking) rate already quite high, I wanted to express myself. It came off tonight, pretty chuffed with the innings. Getting in with the position at 16/3 gives me an opportunity to shine; doesn’t happen too often but when the ball was new it helps.
“Unfortunately, in the last four to five years, I haven’t really played as much IPL cricket as I would have liked to,” he said in the news conference. “The nature of the tournament is that there are only four overseas players (in an XI), and the other overseas players are always going to miss out. I have sort of found myself in an in-between place—in and out of Kings XI and then Rajasthan Royals. I have played some decent games there but I felt I couldn’t really get going.”
“See ball, hit ball” was why Miller was picked way back in 2012, a time when South Africa were flooding the T20 market with clean hitters like Quinton de Kock, Faf du Plessis and Richard Levi. De Kock opens the batting, and so does du Plessis. But rarely has a South African come at the back end of the innings more than Miller. This time, Miller had plenty of overs to play around with. Also the pace off the ball. In an error-strewn bowling effort, CSK literally gave away the match by bowling just one over of spin after the 12th by Ravindra Jadeja, which went for 19 runs. Miller made that happen.
Knowing that attacking the spinners was the only way to push CSK into rethinking their strategy, Miller started going after them if anything was pitched in his arc. Like the six off Jadeja in the 12th over by clearing long-on. After over-pitching the next ball, Jadeja was slog-swept over square-leg for six. If there was the slightest hesitation about bowling pace from both ends, Miller dispelled that by clubbing Maheesh Theekshana over deep square leg for six in the 16th over. Jadeja didn’t bowl his fourth over and neither did Moeen Ali return, having conceded a comparatively measly 17 in two overs.
“I was trying to impose my presence and let them know that I was there to score,” Miller said about his 51-ball knock. Once Theekshana was bowled out in the 16th over, Miller was given a free hand as Dwayne Bravo and Chris Jordan took over. Bravo was still at his wily best, meaning Gujarat Titans couldn’t depend only on Miller. Fortunately, stand-in captain Rashid Khan produced a 25-run carnage off Jordan in the 18th over. The crucial blows throughout the innings though were off Miller’s bat, be it his assault against the spinners or the last-over finishing touch against Jordan.
For too long has Miller’s career been stop-start at best. This innings may help change that a bit. Potential and skills matter, so does patient backing. Miller claims to have that at Gujarat Titans. And maybe, finally, is it starting to show in his batting. “It has been really, really encouraging to be part of Gujarat Titans and just know that I am 100% backed. We have a nice environment, enjoy each other’s success and I think that goes a long way to doing well. More importantly, it has been really nice to play every game.”