Miller’s 101 rescues Proteas, though total short of par against Aussies
The time for David Miller arrived earlier than he or South Africa would have wanted, but his defiant 101 gave them a semblance of hope after Australia threatened to obliterate their World Cup dreams before a quarter of Thursday's semifinal had been played.
Miller arrived at the crease in the 12th over at Eden Gardens, after a nightmare start for the Proteas that left them 24/4 at the end of the 12th over. From there Miller, first with Heinrich Klaasen and then Gerald Coetzee, forged a pair of partnerships that took South Africa to 212 all out in the 50th over.
Neither 200, nor that South Africa would end up batting in the final over of the innings looked a possibility when Miller arrived.
This was a Test match innings — ironic for a man who never got the opportunity to play one. He needed to see off one of the great spells from Josh Hazlewood and then, with Australia’s part-time off-spinners ripping the ball miles, had to carefully negotiate a tricky middle period.
But Miller hung tough, and swatted Pat Cummins over midwicket for six, and thrust both arms in the air before embracing his batting partner at the time, Kagiso Rabada.
In the dugout and in the changeroom his teammates cheered, knowing that while the target for Australia is short of par, it gives them something to work with.
Temba Bavuma, who’d spent most of the innings watching on in anguish from the dugout, rose to his feet too. Until then it had been a dreadful day for the South African captain.
Besides the toss — which fell in his favour, choosing to bat — nothing much had gone right for him. He is still not completely fit after his hamstring strain and his innings of nought lasted four balls.
After an emotional rendition of the national anthem in Kolkata, which Bavuma ended close to tears, he looked dreadfully nervous for the four deliveries he faced from Mitchell Starc. There was no conviction in any of the two forward defences or even the leave that preceded a tentative push at good delivery from Starc that moved just enough find the edge of his bat.
The next hour was difficult viewing. Hazlewood found conditions to his liking, moving the ball through the humid air and bowling a nagging line that continuously asked questions of the rest of the top order.
In addition, Australia’s ground fielding was ferocious, led by David Warner and Marnus Labuschagne who between them stopped a handful of boundaries in that opening power play. South Africa scored just 18 runs in the first 10 overs, their lowest score in that period for 15 years.
The pressure created by Hazlewood and Starc, along with their fielders, induced risky stroke play that saw Quinton de Kock, Aiden Markram and Rassie van der Dussen all caught.
The shots themselves don’t make for good viewing, but their attempts to try to force the pace were understandable.
A 45-minute break for drizzle allowed the Proteas some much-needed breathing room. Miller and Klaasen played out two maidens from Hazlewood and began taking the attack to the leg-spinner Adam Zampa. Strangely Cummins never called on Hazlewood again, and he finished the innings with 2/12 from eight overs, which included three maidens.
Miller and Klaasen were able to find the boundary regularly against Zampa, and built a 95-run partnership for the fifth wicket, until Cummins turned to the part-time off-spin of Travis Head.
He got one to rip that put off Klaasen, who then completely missed the next delivery and was bowled for 47. Marco Jansen was trapped lbw off the next ball, leaving Coetzee to tentatively block the hat-trick ball.
Head was turning it miles and Miller played with due care against him, while Cummins bizarrely went back to Zampa, which offered the Proteas respite.
Coetzee scored a valuable 19 sharing a partnership of 53 for the seventh wicket, and getting Miller closer to his landmark.
It was his sixth hundred, by some distance his most important and included eight fours and five sixes. He was out the ball after reaching the ton, while Australia ended the innings with Maxwell taking a superb diving catch to dismiss Rabada (10 off 12 balls) at long-on, summing up a fielding performance that was arguably the best of the tournament so far.