Hindustan Times ST (Jaipur)
Conway, out of Africa and soaring as a Kiwi
KOLKATA: Not often does life offer a second chance, not after a string of mediocre returns in South African domestic cricket. But Devon Conway persevered. Part of the same under-19 South Africa batch featuring Temba Bavuma and Quinton de Kock, Conway sold everything and left for New Zealand on realising his career wasn’t going anywhere. He was 26 then.
On Wednesday, Conway, 29, became the first overseas opener ever to score a century on debut in England and the 12th Kiwi to get to triple figures in his first Test. He also surpassed former India captain Sourav Ganguly’s 131 to record the highest Test score on debut at Lord’s. “Surreal”, thus, seems just the right word when Conway was asked to describe his feeling after ending the day batting on 136.
“That (scoring a century on debut] never came across my mind,” Conway said. “Just getting a Test debut, a chance to play at this level, was all I thought about. A pretty special feeling, and one I certainly didn’t think about when I made that move.”
When Conway left South Africa for New Zealand in 2017, he had just finished a stupendous first-class season averaging 98.55 for Gauteng. At the franchise level (South Africa’s premier tier) though, Conway was just not able to convert—21.28 in nine games for Dolphins and 21.29 in 12 games for Lions impeded his chances of making a serious pitch for the national team.
New Zealand offered a second chance. And Conway grabbed it with both hands. In the 22 matches he has played for Wellington since 2017, Conway scored 2054 runs at an average of 66.25 with five centuries, including 327 against Canterbury in 2019. That was the eighth triple century in New Zealand’s first-class history. It became very clear within a short span of time that it was a matter of when and not if Conway would play for New Zealand. Giving Conway a central contract in May last year, three months before he was eligible to play for New Zealand, was a good measure of the faith put in him. To ensure all decks were cleared, his residency approval process was also accelerated.
Now Conway had to repay the faith. Wednesday’s unbeaten innings showed he possesses the right flair to play at the highest level. He attacked from the start, forced Stuart Broad over the wicket and came down to the pitch of the ball much more than you would expect in the morning session of the first day of a Test in England. This Lord’s pitch is more docile and the weather too favoured batting but when England started to swing the ball more in the post-lunch session, Conway showed a compact defence.
If the English pacers shortened their length, Conway began to hit the ball squarer. Mark Wood challenged him the most with his well-directed bouncers but Conway adapted well to him as well. “It was a challenge, because he (Wood) was really digging it in,” said Conway. “The nature of the bounce where I’ve grown up is, with that sort of length, you trust it going over the top of you and I didn’t quite realise when he digs it in that short it’s still only going to be chest or head height. Once I wore one or two on the body it was like okay, it was about coming up with Plan B here. The positions I was getting into were probably not ideal, so I thought just trust it and take it on.”
He hit 16 boundaries but runs weren’t served to him on a platter. There were anxious moments too, inside edges and ill-timed hits that could have landed anywhere. But the way Conway tempered his innings spoke of a calm, calculative mind. After Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor fell post-lunch, Conway dug in to add just 28 runs in the second session (he scored 43 in the first) but come the third session, he was back to his old self, cantering to a memorable century.
“When we arrived at Lord’s a couple days ago we walked into the changing room and got the opportunity to have a look at all the legends and the names up on that honours board. Funny enough, I had a conversation with Kane asking what it feels like to see your name on that board and the first thing he said when I went up into the changing room was ‘Now you know what it’s like, bro’. It’s pretty cool, it’s a great place and I’m grateful my name can go up there.”
You wouldn’t have guessed any of that in the first quarter of the day when Conway had to wait three overs to get strike. “It took maybe three or four overs to face my first ball (from Tom Latham), but I was pretty grateful for that. It gave me an opportunity to have a look at the bowling from the non-striker’s end. I’ve never faced Broady and Anderson, so it gave me a chance to see how it was going off the wicket and get some clues from Tommy.”
England trail by 267 runs
REUTERS ADDS: England finished Day 2 on 111/2 and trail New Zealand by 267 runs in the first innings of the first Test after Conway’s double ton took the game away from the home side on Thursday. New Zealand were bowled out for 378 after lunch as England’s fast bowlers cleaned up the middle order and tail but they were left frustrated by No.11 Neil Wagner (25 not out) who helped Conway set his record score.