Cape Town - David Miller has for a long time been an opulence that Proteas limited-overs teams have indulged.
A bit like a luxury sports car that only gets driven occasionally. It’s not something that gets the job done on a daily basis, but nothing can compare to the feeling of letting the top down for the wind to run through your hair when it does eventually get taken for a spin.
In the cut-throat world of franchise cricket, where there’s limited space in the garage for luxury overseas purchases, a Miller-type extravagance can often not be accommodated.
Teams require the assurance of a German sedan. The knowledge that their rental will be able to perform at high-speed levels on a consistent basis.
It is for this reason that the IPL has not seen the best of Miller for the past few years. It was simply too much of a risk to pull him out of the garage.
But sometimes all an Italian classic requires is for a new owner to show it a bit of love and affection. Polish it up a bit. Give it a good service, and the results are often astounding.
And that’s exactly what’s happened to Miller during this season’s IPL. A move to the Gujarat Titans has certainly rejuvenated Miller. The left-hand drive has found a home that appreciates his unique qualities and created an environment that brings the best out of him.
"I think opportunity firstly," said Miller about what has changed after powering the Titans over the finish line and into the IPL Final on Tuesday through three consecutive sixes. "I have been given a good role and a good extensive run in the team. I felt extremely backed from the onset."
Titans captain Hardik Pandya, who was in the passenger seat throughout Miller’s destruction of the Rajasthan Royals’ bowling attack at Eden Gardens, is certainly one of Miller’s biggest supporters.
"A lot of people counted David Miller out, but for us he was always a match-winner from the time we bought him at the auction,” Pandya said. "What he’s done we always expected from him. But for us it was important to give him the importance, give him that love and give him the clarity as to what we expect from him. And if he fails, it's okay; it's just a game."
The results have been spectacular. Miller’s blistering knock in Qualifier 1 saw him overtake his former Proteas captain Faf du Plessis on the overall run-scorers leaderboard. With the final still to come, Miller has already sped to an IPL career high of 449 runs at an average of 64.14 with a strike-rate of 141.19.
It is also by no means a coincidence that Miller’s IPL rejuvenation has coincided with Gary Kirsten being part of the Titans support staff. The former Proteas coach has long been a Miller enthusiast. He feeds into Miller’s laidback lifestyle too.
Crucially, though, Kirsten would have provided Miller with a clearly-defined game plan that allows room for him to best express his talents.
This was transparent throughout the match-winning partnership with Pandya. Walking to the crease with the Titans requiring 104 runs with just over half of the innings remaining, Miller never allowed the sense of the occasion to overwhelm him.
He allowed Pandya to take the steering wheel initially. And despite the run-rate hovering at 10 runs per over, calmly worked his way to 10 runs off his first 14 balls. Pandya had 32 off 17 balls at that stage.
After working through the gears Miller finished with 68 not out from 38 balls (3x4, 5x6). His next 28 balls yielded 58 runs. Pandya (40 not out) added just a further eight runs off his remaining 10 balls.
After all these years Miller seems to have found a motor plan that works for him. And it's not just in the IPL.
He has been equally impressive for the Proteas the past two years since the Covid-19 enforced break. In his last 17 T20I’s, Miller has powered 377 runs at an average of 47.12. His strike-rate has also risen to 149.60. This in comparison to his overall average of 31.80 and strike-rate of 140.60.
This has translated into the confidence to take bowlers down at crucial junctures of the innings too. He man-handled Ireland’s Josh Little during the second T20I in Belfast when he banged 24 runs in the final over of the innings. It formed part of a 44-ball 75 that had even greater significance after the Proteas had earlier slumped to 38/4.
A relaxed environment and some weights in the gym... That's the Miller Mantra for success 😁— Gujarat Titans (@gujarat_titans) May 25, 2022
But who better than the man himself and Wade bhai talking about our entry into the final 💙 #SeasonOfFirsts #AavaDe #GTvRR #TATAIPL pic.twitter.com/N5jevZqMNQ
Sri Lanka’s Lahiru Kumara was Miller’s next victim. Under even more pressure in a must-win T20 World Cup Group match in Sharjah, Miller dispatched Kumara high into the Arabian night sky for consecutive sixes.
Royal’s seamer Prasidh Krishna has now been added to the list.
"I am really enjoying my role. I have been playing for many years now, and I think I am just understanding my game a lot better. I think in high-pressure situations you tend to sort of go away from your game plan but I feel like I am trying to keep everything together as close as possible to my game plan," Miller said.
With an IPL grand final and another T20 World Cup on the horizon, the Titans and the Proteas may have got Miller’s engine revving at just the right time.