@Aadya_Wisden 15 minute read
No.5 in Wisden’s men’s ODI innings of 2023 is David Miller’s battling hundred in South Africa’s World Cup semi-final defeat to Australia. Aadya Sharma pays tribute to a gutsy fightback.
Wisden’s men’s ODI innings of 2023, No.5: David Miller – 101 (116)
South Africa v Australia
Cricket World Cup semi-final
Eden Gardens, Kolkata, November 16
The great thing about David Miller’s batting can actually be its vulnerability. His good days can very well look like his bad days. Often, they start the same way: nervous pokes, minimal foot movement, a close call here and a dropped catch there. You can never get the sense that a special one is unravelling.
At Kolkata, Miller’s miracle began the same way. On a spongy, sticky, spinning wicket, at a World Cup semi-final – the last four words carry a trauma of their own – South Africa were fastened into a box by Australia’s holy pace trinity. Eighteen runs and two wickets came off the first ten overs. They lost two more wickets in the next two.
In at No.6, Miller’s first runs came off a jittery prod, the edge dropping short of second slip and breaking Josh Hazlewood’s magic trance. The batting had been so fragile so far: it could very well have been a first-ball duck. So insulted was Hazlewood that he bowled two straight maidens after that.
Next over, he was nearly undone by Pat Cummins’ crafty pace change. The ball ballooned off his bat and fell short of mid-on. South Africa, not even crossed 40, almost lost their fifth.
Miller, a white-ball behemoth, has often turned matches with backs-to-the-wall cameos, but as an ODI player, he has rarely been afforded the chance to bat for this long. He entered Eden Gardens with one fifty in the league stages, and no ODI century in five years.
Dark grey clouds, about to leak, didn’t help with the gloominess. A 40-minute rain break must have helped shake the daze.
Was this it for the Proteas? With most of their batting star cast already back, they wouldn’t have minded staying in the comforts of their dugout. Their batting had acted excessively bipolar through the campaign. A rescue mission looked unlikely.
That’s where the Miller effect comes in. When he clubbed Adam Zampa, the tournament’s best spinner, over long on, South Africa were shaken out of their stupor. He’s always had the ability to, out of nowhere, drain away every shred of non-complying statistic, track record or match scenario, ditch vulnerability and click into mode maverick.
Little by little, he conquered lost ground. Against Glenn Maxwell, he used the depth of his crease to attack square of the wicket. Against Zampa, he climbed into flighted deliveries, the big lever swinging them down the ground. It wasn’t always aesthetically pleasing, but rescue acts aren’t about the glamour.
Despite a paucity of partners, he appeared conveniently detached from the situation, turning survival into an extended battle with each ball. First with Heinrich Klaasen and then Gerald Coetzee, he forged pressure-releasing stands. By the time a fierce pull took him to three figures, and he was hugged to the spine by Kagiso Rabada, South Africa had crossed 200, a miracle in its own right.
Barring him, and a counterpunching Travis Head for Australia, none of the other batters crossed fifty. Such was the dominance of bat over ball. If you ever feel Miller only clobbers on flat tracks, this innings was a loud contradiction.
Five Novembers ago, Miller had last hit a century, against the same opposition. That day, he had another centurion, Faf du Plessis for coming. Kolkata was a solo act: nearly 48 per cent of the team’s runs had come off his bat. From having next to nothing, it gave South Africa hope.
In the end, they even managed to make a close game out of it. Just like Miller, even in their vulnerability, there was no surrender.