Conway’s Dash from South African Suburbs to Lord’s Honours Board
Devon Conway held fort against England’s ruthless bowling attack to notch up a majestic double ton on Test debut.
Devon Conway’s magnificent double hundred on debut at Lord’s would leave many in South Africa with a furrowed brow. The tenacious left-hander is the latest addition to the list of sons of Protean soil who migrated from their motherland to make a fortune elsewhere. Jason Roy, Marnus Labuschagne, Kevin Pietersen, Grant Elliot, to name a few, are talents with roots tracing back to the rainbow nation.
Records fell like a pack of cards on Thursday, 3 May, as Conway proved the binding glue of New Zealand’s batting unit en route his marathon effort worth 200 off 347 deliveries. He not only became the 7th player to slam a double century on Test debut but also the first to achieve the feat on maiden international appearance in England. Both statisticians and pace predators in the hosts’ attack were subjected to a tough day at the office by the 29-year-old, who defended, ducked and drove his way to a fairytale debut at the mecca of cricket.
Conway Wipes the Slate Clean with African Exit
The prospect of raking up this elusive zenith of glory wouldn’t even have crossed Conway’s mind when he shifted base to New Zealand four years ago. While the southpaw scored buckets of runs at the provincial level, the second tier of South African domestic circuit, his foray into top-flight franchise cricket blew up in his face. Making the team sheet in a meagre 21 matches in more than six years, Conway never transcended three figures in 36 innings.
"I was always in and out of the team," he told ESPNcricinfo from Wellington, his new home. "I didn't have a secure spot. I've batted in all sorts of positions, sometimes even number 7. I wouldn't bowl either. Lack of clarity and my own inconsistency pushed me down the pecking order. I wouldn't have been able to push my case forward, so I thought it was best to move," Conway threw light on the germination of the idea to locomote eastwards to the isle.
Opting for Kolpak, a pact that allows players from countries that are a part of the European Union the liberty to play competitive cricket in any EU country without being considered an overseas player, seemed a no-brainer since he had plied his trade in England every winter for over half a decade as an overseas professional. However, New Zealand was given precedence over the UK because his bosom buddies, fellow South African domestic players Malcolm Nofal and Michael Rippon, encouraged him, having trodden the same path themselves.
NZ Resident Conway Rediscovers his Mojo
Standing at the edge of oblivion in South Africa, Conway’s venture into the Kiwi countryside worked like a charm. He joined Victoria University Cricket Club in a dual capacity in 2017 as player and coach. "I sold my property, car and everything that we couldn't bring over, because I wanted to close that chapter and start afresh," he said, rejoicing at the fresh lease of life.
Conway ironed out a few creases in his otherwise rock-solid technique, fine-tuning his trigger movements and focusing on a compact yet positive front-foot stride. The minor adjustments bore fruit as he topped the averages across New Zealand’s domestic tournaments - Plunket Shield, One-Day Trophy and Super Smash - with his 327 against Canterbury the shining star of the lot.
It was only a matter of time before the adaptable anchor was handed a promotion, and safe to say, Conway began his big-stage rendezvous with a bang. After three ODIs, he is averaging 75 while having opened his century account in his most recent game. A jaw-dropping average of 59.12 with a strike-rate of 151.11 in T20s embellishes his credentials, having twice been left stranded in the 90s, including an unbeaten 99 against Australia in Christchurch.
Conway’s resilience will add a huge chunk of meat to New Zealand’s top-order in Tests, the heavy lifting wherein is done by the experienced triumvirate comprising Tom Latham, Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor. His uber-cool hustle on the swinging decks of England speaks volumes of his temperament and hunger to perform. If the much-maligned jetlag was kind to India post their journey to Southampton, Conway’s noisy arrival on the scene could’ve posed a problem as the speed merchants tried to catch a wink.
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