David Miller
South Africa’s David Miller in action during the first Twenty20 cricket match against India in New Delhi on June 9, 2022. Image Credit: AP

A loss hurts. Always. That’s why India’s defeat to South Africa in the first Twenty20 International in Delhi has come under so much scrutiny. Given the passion for cricket in India, the national team can ill-afford a loss. The defeat at Kotla on Thursday has now been parsed by pundits and Indian supporters.

You can’t fault them. The Twenty20 World Cup is only a few months away, and this series is deemed one of the trials to finalise the team. So India rested stalwarts like Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami to give the aspirants a chance to make their case.

What India didn’t bargain were the setbacks in the form of injuries to KL Rahul and Kuldeep Yadav. With India fielding a depleted side, South Africa started as firm favourites, which is what they showed in the first game. The Proteas turned a loss into a victory, which means India lost a game they should have won.

A gamingchanging knock

That is precisely why it hurts. When South Africa was restricted to 86 in the first 10 overs, Indians harboured visions of victory until David Miller and Rassie van der Dussen snatched it away with a 131-run fourth-wicket stand. In the last 10 overs, they plundered 126 runs as the Indian bowlers wilted under their onslaught.

Miller, who led the assault, was merely extending his red-hot form from the IPL, where he played some gamechanging knocks for winners Gujarat Titans. This is a typical example of how the IPL helped transform a player. The South African, who revelled in 2013 with his power-hitting for Kings XI Punjab (the present-day Punjab Kings), used to make mincemeat of pace attacks but struggled against spin.

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Explosive knocks were interspersed with abject failures as Miller moved franchises over the past nine years. But he learnt to play spin, with shots down the field and over it. When Gujarat Titans gave him a permanent place in the batting lineup and the freedom to express himself, Miller repaid the trust with pivotal knocks that showcased his newfound prowess against spin.

Left-arm spinner Axar Patel got a taste of it as Miller shifted gears to accelerate South Africa’s chase of India’s 211. And when Van der Dussen discovered his timing, there was little India could do. Maybe, if Shreyas Iyer didn’t spill Van der Dussen’s catch, India could have a clawed back into the match. But that thought evaporated as Miller continued to unleash towering sixes.

It was Miller’s match. The painful lessons from the game will stand the Indian bowlers in good stead in the next four games. It’s too early to write off Harshal Patel after his stupendous IPL form, but Umran Malik and Arshdeep Singh might get their debuts earlier than expected.