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South Africa v England 2023

David Miller, South Africa’s cold-eyed killer, deserves to be considered a true ODI great

Aadya Sharma by Aadya Sharma
@Aadya_Wisden 4 minute read

With his ice-cool knock helping South Africa chase down 343 against England, David Miller has reminded everyone, yet again, that he is a phenomenal one-day cricketer, writes Aadya Sharma.

David Miller has been an ODI cricketer for a long, long time. When he debuted, Graeme Smith was still South Africa’s captain, Australia had been World Cup champions for 11 years straight, none of the ‘Fab Four’ had played Test cricket, and the two new-ball rule was still a thing of the future.

Since his debut, 20 other cricketers have clocked more men’s ODI appearances than him. Among South Africa’s highest run-getters in the format, Miller ranks at 14th, and has scored less than a third of Jacques Kallis’ career runs. By his 50th ODI – in 2014 – he still hadn’t crossed 1,000 runs. Three matches later, his career average had fallen below 30. It took him nearly five years to hit his first ODI century, and he hasn’t hit one in four years.


For a player soon to turn 34, those numbers aren’t really suggestive of a white-ball titan, but Miller is, in fact, exactly that. Among all ODI players with at least 100 caps, only three – AB de Villiers, Jos Buttler and Miller – have an average above 40 and a strike rate of over 100. Since his debut, only de Villiers has hit more ODI sixes, and struck at a higher strike rate [minimum 10 innings] for South Africa.

Miller’s excellence as a first-rate finisher cannot be overstated, and the last three years have only accentuated that record. In each of the last four calendar years – 2020, 2021, 2022 and 2023 so far – Miller’s strike rate has been above 100, and his average at least 45. He has hit three unbeaten fifties in his last five innings, and averages 70.90 in 25 ODIs since the start of 2020, the strike rate reading 111.12.

Miller has played the majority of his innings at five and six, often left with the job to close off a chase or rapidly accelerate from the get-go while setting totals. At No.6, he has 16 fifty-plus scores in 73 innings – only MS Dhoni and Michael Bevan, regarded as perhaps the two greatest one-day finishers – have a higher tally. Miller’s strike rate is well above those two, and he’s hit two centuries in that position, as opposed to one each from the pair.

It’s a role that Miller has only got better at, often taking the responsibility of anchoring a chase and taking his team through, especially since the retirement of AB de Villiers. In successful chases, Miller averages 79.16 at a strike rate of 117.86 – with a 15-innings cut-off, only Thisara Perera, Shahid Afridi, Glenn Maxwell and Jason Roy have struck at a higher rate. For South Africa, only de Villiers averages higher [82.77] in the same cut-off. South Africa have won 25 and lost just five matches when Miller has remained unbeaten.

When Miller first came on the scene, he had all the elements of a stellar white-ball player: it never took too long for the big hits to come out, the game awareness was evident, and he was a sharp and quick between the wickets. He came with a set of slogans too: if it was in the V, it was into the tree, and if it was in the arc, it was out of the park. But there was a potential-versus-results mismatch early on. In his first four calendar years, the average hovered around 30, sometimes below.

The year 2015 changed that. Miller discovered himself at the World Cup – only AB de Villiers, Faf du Plessis and Hashim Amla scored more runs for South Africa, and only de Villiers, Glenn Maxwell and Brendon McCullum scored more runs at a higher rate. Miller was operating among the big leagues.

The numbers continued to get better after; since 2015, he has averaged over 45 in six out of eight years. In his worst year, the strike rate has been 87.69. Last three years, it has been comfortably over 100.

That has partly to do with his better handling of spin in the last few years, which has also enhanced his T20 record. According to CricViz , up until 2020, Miller started slowly against spin, scoring at 4.1 runs per over in the first 20 balls of his innings. From 2010 to 2019, his strike rate against spin stood at 88.28. Since 2020, it has gone up to 104.01. In 14 innings, he has been dismissed only three times by spinners.

Just like the 2015 edition, the upcoming World Cup could take Miller to the next level. Equipped with a stronger spin game, and well-versed in Indian conditions courtesy of the IPL, Miller could further bolster his reputation as one of the game’s finest white-ball strikers. The form has been fine this year – against England in Bloemfontein, Miller played a typical Miller knock, coming in the third quarter of the chase, and taking them home with a nonchalant, unbeaten 37-ball 58. Miller now has played a key role in two out of South Africa’s three biggest run chases.

Earlier this month, Miller said that he had added the World Cup to his list of “new year resolutions”. Given his Midas touch right now, it won’t be entirely surprising if his wish turns prophetic.

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