In the 2019 World Cup, where South Africa was eliminated after winning only one of its first seven games, David Miller eked out only 136 runs in four innings at a strike rate of 86.
Four years later, in what is likely to be his last tilt at the World title, it was Miller’s lonely and aggressive riposte that dragged South Africa from a dreary 24 for four to a competitive 212 in the second semifinal against Australia on Thursday.
The near 46,000-strong crowd at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata erupted in joy as Miller reached his first ODI century, off 115 balls, in over five years with a 94-metre six. Not only was it the highest individual score by a South African in a World Cup knockout, it also gave Temba Bavuma’s men a fighting chance.
Miller came to the crease in the 12th over, and in tough batting conditions early on, under overcast skies, he was calm but aggressive. He maneuvered the ball into the gaps with effortless ease and added 95 crucial runs with Heinrich Klaasen for the fifth wicket.
He was particularly severe on Adam Zampa, who kept bowling loopy leg-breaks to him at a convenient pace. Miller prefers pace on the ball, but he was aware that if he didn’t attack Zampa, Australia’s only frontline spinner, he would probably bowl unchanged from one end with seamers rotating around him. So, he took him on.
Given the slow nature of the pitch, he looked to play straight more often than not. And there were no half-hearted big shots. One could say that one advantage of coming to bat early was that he got the time to get his eye in against a relatively hard ball.
“It’s really great to get a hundred, but only half the game is done. We fought at the end and got a decent score,” Miller said during the innings break.
“We know the pitch would be slower and it would turn. We were always on the back foot after losing four wickets in the PowerPlay but we managed to salvage something at the back end,” he added.
There was a short rain break when South Africa was batting, and the pitch did seem to have eased out when play resumed. Given that this was not the centre wicket, there was a short boundary on one side, which also helped Miller’s cause. He also ran 31 singles and four twos, indicating the constant working of the fielders with supple running between the wickets.
The fact that Miller outscored all his teammates 101 to 100 ultimately underlined the bewildering nature of his spellbinding knock.
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