When David Miller is comfortable with his hitting, he's not going to stop

David Miller struck some powerful blows during his fifty Alex Davidson / © Getty Images

Few would look at an innings of 82 not out off 45 balls and think it played second fiddle to another knock in a game, but when David Miller walked off unbeaten at the end of South Africa's 50 overs in Centurion earlier this month, all the applause was focused on Heinrich Klaasen's freakish 174 off 83 balls, which took his side to 416 against Australia.

Two days later, Miller scored another half-century, 63 off 65, as South Africa posted 315 and sealed the series 3-2. Once more, his innings was overshadowed - by Aiden Markram's 93 and Marco Jansen's all-round heroics.

As the most experienced player in South Africa's ODI World Cup squad, Miller really shouldn't be flying under the radar ahead of what will likely be his last tilt at the title. His ice-cool exterior on the field is in evidence during our interview earlier this year. Sitting in a deck chair by the pool of a luxury hotel, Miller looks relaxed, but when he starts talking about this current South Africa side, he leans forward, the excitement almost palpable in his voice.

No, he doesn't mind if he isn't the centre of attention. "We've actually got a world-class top six," he says. "Quinton de Kock has that power up top, Aiden Markram strikes easy boundaries, Rassie [van der Dussen] can literally destroy the opposition, Klaasen… we've got a lot of power-hitters in the top six. I'm sure the coach would be open to moving me up one or two games, seeing how a game goes, but for now, I think we've pretty much got our structure and it seems to be working."

We're talking at a time when Miller is in form, though, in fairness, that doesn't really narrow it down much. His impressive run has extended across formats and seasons for so long now it's less a purple patch than a sparkling late chapter in a career that feels like it has still got some ways to run. His vastly improved numbers in T20 cricket since 2021 have made him an even more coveted asset in the franchise league circuit, but his ODI rise in that time has bordered on the meteoric.

Since July 2019, the start of this World Cup cycle, he averages just under 61 with a strike rate of 114.15; in the nine years before that period, his average was around 39 and strike rate a fraction over a run a ball. Miller has batted at No. 5 or lower in every one of his post-World Cup innings and yet he has been scoring his runs faster than ever, and scoring more of them.

He accepts, somewhat reluctantly, what anyone who has watched him of late has believed for some time: this is a cricketer in his prime. But he's keen to stress the value of his experience, which has enabled him to understand his game, as well as his abilities.

"I've been around for a long time," he says. "I do love what I do - I think that's very important. When you go through tough times, it gets you through. But I feel like I am in my prime; I have been for the last four years, and I'm playing really good cricket. And as long as I can keep my body fit and healthy, I can play.

"I wouldn't say it's harder [to pace your innings lower down the order]. I have understood my game a lot better as I've gone on - about when to pull the trigger. Nowadays guys are taking on bowlers a lot earlier. The game has evolved so quickly. I still feel like there's space for taking your time, summing up the situation. You might need six an over on a tricky wicket and have to finish the job. It's just about understanding what's in front of you, as opposed to a completely different situation. Where you need 12 an over and have to kind of go straightaway. I feel when I'm really comfortable, I'm not going to stop. It's just about getting myself into that mindset."

Miller finds himself in that mindset more and more often, and stays in it longer. Since the last World Cup, no one who bats at No. 5 or lower comes anywhere close to his batting average, and only Klassen surpasses his strike rate. Eleven of Miller's 27 innings have been half-centuries; no other batter in his situation comes close to matching that consistency. Pair that with his fearsome power and there's perhaps no batter in ODI cricket who offers such middle-order potency.

"It's difficult to explain why [I have success with power-hitting], but I always believe when I'm batting that the bowler panics before the batter. I just have to stay nice and calm and wait for the ball to be in my area, making sure I'm putting it away. If I do so, I do feel the bowler changes their plans quite quickly. Even to our bowlers, [my advice] often is to just keep it simple and stick to their plan a little bit longer as opposed to changing it quite quickly."

Just like Miller, though, South Africa have rarely had ODI problems between World Cup cycles, but rather at the tournaments themselves. In the last four years Miller's numbers may have soared, but at the 2019 World Cup, clad in a pale imitation of the resplendent green South Africa generally sports, he and the team were pale imitations of the quality they serve up in bilateral series. Miller managed only 136 runs in six innings at a strike rate of 86, and South Africa were eliminated after winning only one of their first seven games.

The word that must not be spoken hangs heavy in the air. Even the light breeze that stirs the surface of the swimming pool seems to have subsided. We sit staring across from one another, each knowing what the other is about to say. Then, with a resigned sigh, Miller rips the band-aid off.

"I genuinely believe that we're not chokers," he says. "How that tag affects people is an individual thing, but it's never, ever bothered me. I'm honestly not just saying that.

"Obviously there's been history and there's been games that we've not played well in that have let us down. But I would never say the 'chokers' tag applies to us, although that's what everyone says. I've never really believed that at all.

"I believe we've got a great team. At the end of the day, cricket is cricket and you can lose games from nowhere outside of the World Cup. Upsets are part of the game. It's just about making sure that we're switched on as a team. You do need luck in certain games along a journey. But I'd never say it's a chokers kind of situation."

Still, it's undeniable that South Africa have an ageing batting line-up. Markram is the only specialist batter in the side under 30, while Quinton de Kock, who is 30, announced he was retiring from ODIs after the World Cup to "top up" his T20 franchise earnings.

Miller himself, 34, doesn't look like he'll be walking away from South Africa soon, though, even as the T20 offers have continued to pile in.

"It is a demanding sport, but I really do love playing cricket. I love playing for my country; that's my priority. That has never wavered, not at all. Doing well for my country opens up opportunities outside around the world. As long as I'm staying relevant and doing my trade really well for South Africa, it keeps me in demand outside of South Africa. Whatever the case, my priority is South Africa. I suppose it can be demanding, but as long as I'm mentally in tune as to where my movements are and what I need to do, then I'll stick to it."

With South Africa co-hosting the 2027 ODI World Cup, it's hard to rule out Miller, at 38, taking another stab at it. For now, the man who missed out on South Africa's final squad for the 2011 World Cup has unfinished business in India.