Conway left stumped by Kane’s praise
After he scooped two Black Caps awards to cap a breakout international season, Devon Conway messaged his captain Kane Williamson to congratulate him on winning the top gong.
The response from the world’s top-ranked test batsman and fourtime Sir Richard Hadlee Medal winner moved Conway to laughter, and a touch of disbelief.
‘‘It’s funny, he sent a message saying ‘it’s been awesome to watch you play, and learn’, and I giggled and said: ‘learn, come on mate, there’s nothing that you haven’t learned’. The person he is, it’s great to get to know him and watch him,’’ Conway said.
Yes, the man who batted nearly 29 hours and averaged 159.75 in the 4-0 test series sweep over West Indies and Pakistan looked to Conway for ways to improve. No higher praise to receive, for the elegant left-hander who was named Black Caps
Twenty20 and ODI player of the year, and averaged over 50 in all four domestic and international formats he batted in.
Of Williamson, Conway said: ‘‘I can’t emulate the way he plays, because he’s so good. You just take the small things and see how well he does them, like playing the ball late, having a good position, head always still . . . watching that up front and the amount of time he’s got playing the ball, it’s incredible.’’
This mutual admiration society will continue in England, when the Black Caps reconvene to try to topple India in the World Test Championship final on June
18. Conway will almost certainly make his test debut against England at Lord’s on June 2, most likely as Tom Latham’s opening partner.
For now, Conway was back at the Basin Reserve yesterday to reflect on the most remarkable debut season in recent memory, after he became eligible for New Zealand selection in August, three years since arriving from South Africa.
He was boosted by messages of support from current South Africa internationals David Miller, Temba Bavuma, Quinton de Kock, Tabraiz Shamsi and Kagiso Rabada, and humbled by New Zealanders’ response and the way he was accepted into the Black Caps.
‘‘Receiving a message this morning from Timmy Southee saying ‘you’ve been awesome, on and off the field’, things like that make me feel very welcome,’’ he said.
Now 29, Conway felt better prepared to handle his debut than if he’d been 21 or 22. ‘‘A bit of a surprise was the fact that international level is not too much of a step up. It’s more the mental pressure you put on yourself.’’
‘‘International level is not too much of a step up. It’s more the mental pressure you put on yourself.’’
That was at its most intense at Eden Park on November 27, the opening day of a Covid-clouded home summer and his T20 international debut. It remains his clearest memory of a whirlwind season, how he dealt with the nerves and went on to average 59 at a blistering strike rate of 151 in 11 T20 innings.
‘‘The moment for me was being at the non-striker’s end. I’d faced two balls from Sheldon Cottrell and somehow got through them. That first ball I could easily have nicked it and got out.
‘‘I was standing there while Tim Seifert was on strike and I had 2-3 minutes to regain my thoughts, take a couple of deep breaths, work out where the field was and really zone in on what I wanted to do in that game.
‘‘That was the opportunity to absorb everything. I was grateful I was at the non-striker’s end because everything was happening a million miles an hour.’’
There was no looking back. Conway scored 41 off 29 balls, then two days later raised his bat in a brisk 65 not out at Mount Maunganui. It was his favourite innings, as Glenn Phillips monstered the Black Caps’ fastest T20 century off 46 balls.
Fast forward to Hamilton in late March, after he’d struck his maiden ODI century against Bangladesh at the Basin Reserve. He tormented the touring bowlers again in Hamilton, hitting 92 not out off 52 balls, and got the ultimate crowd endorsement.
‘‘Walking around the boundary to sign some autographs and having some of the kids screaming ‘Conway, Conway’ was a pretty cool moment for me.’’
Now, Conway’s putting the bat and gloves in the kit bag for 2-3 weeks, working on his golf and spending time with his fiancee and biggest supporter, Kim.
A freshen up was needed after such a season, then Conway will head to Lincoln, near Christchurch, for two camps with the test squad before they depart for England on May 16.
Having played six seasons in England between 2010 and 2017, Conway was familiar with the Dukes ball the squad will train with at Lincoln. And, while he insisted he’d given little thought to potentially opening in his first test, Conway allowed himself some daydreams.
‘‘As a young kid you always dream to have one of those moments, to play at the Basin Reserve, or Lord’s, or the Wanderers, or the MCG or SCG, Eden Gardens. If it was to happen at the home of cricket that’d be pretty cool.’’