Sun | Aug 20, 2017

Orville Higgins | What's up with the Nikita Miller shutout?

Published:Tuesday | December 20, 2016 | 12:00 AM

When things are not going your way in Jamaica, when bad luck seems to follow your every move, there is a local saying, "Yuh mussi tief smaddy white fowl." If that's true, Nikita O'Brien Miller must have stolen several. He may well have a whole coop of white fowls somewhere at the back of his yard. How else do you explain his limited appearances in West Indies colours despite his staggering returns in first-class cricket?

Nikita has taken 428 first-class wickets. He is, by some distance, the leading wicket-taker in regional cricket history - in fact, the only one with more than 400 wickets. He takes these wickets at a mind-boggling 16.64 apiece as of his last first-class game at Sabina Park against the Trinidad franchise. His 9 for 41 two weekends ago was the best bowling performance in regional first-class history.

Miller has taken five wickets in an innings 25 times, and on seven or more occasions, he has taken 10 or more wickets in a game. Despite this, he has played the grand total of one Test match, and this was only when the West Indies played a weakened team against Bangladesh in 2009. Never in the history of organised cricket has anyone taken over 400 first-class wickets at 16 apiece and played in only one Test! For the West Indies to not call on the services of Nikita Miller in Test cricket more often is a travesty of justice.

The other left-arm orthodox spinners in the region have played far more Tests, without having returns anywhere close to Miller's record. Suleiman Benn has played 25 Tests. Veersammy Permaul has played six, and even Jamel Warrican, who had only one really outstanding season, has played four.

I have asked selectors and other cricket luminaries over the years why Miller is constantly overlooked for Test cricket, and I keep hearing that he doesn't really spin the ball and doesn't get the bounce of, say, a Sulieman Benn. That, of course, is nonsense. I don't necessarily want a spin bowler to get bounce and turn. I want him to get wickets. Nikita gives you those in truckloads. He has done all that is asked of him.

Maybe Miller's biggest problem is how easy he makes it all look. Because he makes it look so easy, what he does is, therefore, grossly underrated.

 

MILLER: THE PERFECT SPINNER

 

He looks uncomplicated. He doesn't frighten you with an elaborate action. He doesn't create mystery balls that people talk about. What he does is simply put the ball on a spot that the batsman finds difficult to score, arguably better than anybody else that the West Indies has produced. He is the perfect epitome of the classic line-and-length spinner.

A bowling average of 16 is earth-shattering. The batting equivalent would probably be an average of 60. There is no way a batsman who is averaging close to 60 in first-class cricket would play only one Test. No matter how much his technique and modus operandi don't suit the pundits, if a batsman was doing similar things in that realm, as Nikita is doing with the ball, he would be more or less a sure pick in our Test team.

He has played more than 40 one-day internationals (ODI) and has the creditable economy rate of 4.65. With his figures, he should have at least played twice that number of games. These days when ODI scores are getting higher and higher, a bowler whose economy rate is 4.65 should be an automatic pick in most ODI teams, never mind one that is struggling to be in the top eight in the world. An economy rate of 4.65 means that if everybody in his team bowls as tightly as he does, the opposition team would make only in the 230s, and on most occasions that should be a gettable score by the team batting second.

Nobody is quite sure what has caused the selectors to keep overlooking Miller. I have heard that he has disciplinary issues, but that can't be substantiated. As far as I know, he has never been put before a disciplinary panel and found guilty of any serious offence. The Nikita Miller I know is outspoken, and will stand up and say what he believes. There are times when he may rub authorities the wrong way with his willingness to speak up, but others have played far more often for the West Indies with far greater baggage on their rÈsumÈ.

It isn't too late to right this wrong. Certainly, the next time a Test team tours the West Indies, Nikita Miller's name should be pencilled in. He has demonstrated that in regional conditions, he is simply the most lethal bowler around.

- Orville Higgins is a sportscaster and talk-show host at KLAS ESPN Sports FM. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.