Devon Conway’s fairytale

Free Hit contributor Dilan Gunasekara

Devon Conway
(Photo by Gareth Copley - ECB/ECB via Getty Images)

It was a busy day in August 2017 when another passenger aircraft safely landed at the Wellington airport from Johannesburg. A tall, well-built person slowly got off the aircraft and stepped towards the arrivals counter. The immigration  officer carefully checked his passport and placed the official seal “Arrival Wellington August 2017”.

This stranger was a South African first-class cricketer who had decided to migrate to New Zealand to try and change his fortunes. Before his trip to Wellington, he sold his property, car, and everything he couldn’t bring. This man was none other than Devon Conway, who played an absolutely  gem of an innings against the formidable English side on his debut Test at Lords.

Devon Conway first joined the Victoria University Cricket Club in dual capacity as player and coach. Due to his performances, the Wellington Firebirds team opened their doors and took him under their wings. It was the turning point of Conway’s career. Wellington Firebirds batsman Tom Blundell received a national call up for the West Indies white ball series and Wellington needed a wicketkeeper who could bat in the middle order. So they simply asked Conway to assume duties.

In the 2020 domestic season, Conway amassed 1598 runs with a stellar average of 72. In 2019, he scored an absolutely magnificent 327 runs against Canterbury. It was only the eighth triple century registered in New Zealand domestic cricket history, the innings that defined the caliber of the next big thing in New Zealand cricket. Devon Conway was scoring heavily at the domestic level and his appetite for the runs caught the eye of Gavin Larson, the chief selector of New Zealand cricket. As a result, Conway got his maiden national call up for the first of the three-match T20I series against defending T20 World Champions the West Indies. The Kiwis went on to win the encounter comprehensively by five wickets and Conway slammed a quickfire 41 runs from only 29 balls which included five boundaries and one towering maximum. At one stage the New Zealand innings was in tatters, they had lost four wickets for 63 runs when they were chasing a stiff target of 180 runs. Conway and Jimmy Neesham added 73 runs from 35 balls for the fifth wicket. That partnership really turned the tables in New Zealand’s favor. In his fifth T20I match, Conway went berserk at Hagley Oval and stroked a career-best 99 not out from 59 balls with 10 fours and three half a dozens against Australia.

Following his impressive run in cricket’s shortest format, the New Zealand selectors summoned him for the fifty-over format. He won his ODI cap for New Zealand against Bangladesh and in only his third ODI match scored a majestic ton which propelled the Kiwis to an imposing total of 318 runs from their allocated 50 overs. The target of 318 runs was too good for the depleted Bangladesh side and they were skittled out for 154 runs. Due to his eye-popping performances in the white-ball formats, New Zealand then decided to give Conway a run in the game’s longest format in the two match test series against England followed by the inaugural World Test Championship Final against India at Southampton.

On the 2nd of June 2021, Devon Conway won his test cap as the 281st player to represent the Kiwi nation in test matches. The man who came from Johannesburg to pursue a career in cricket opened the batting along with Tom Latham for New Zealand. Oh wait! he debuted at Lord’s cricket ground, the home of cricket.

Opening the batting in English conditions is tough, opening the batting in English conditions under dark clouds is tougher and for an opening batsman who was playing in his debut test innings that would be his worst nightmare. Under these circumstances, Devon Conway and Tom Latham slowly walked to the Lord’s pitch to open the batting for New Zealand. Guess who had the duke red cherry in hand, James Anderson, the highest test wicket-taker among fast bowlers, with a staggering 617 test victims under his belt.

Latham and debutant Conway walked out to the middle to lay a solid foundation for the New Zealand first innings. A nervy jab towards long leg earned Conway his first test runs. In the very next over Conway unfurled a scintillating cover drive that screamed past extra cover to register his first boundary. Latham and Conway defused the high voltage bowling of Jimmy and Broad and added 58 runs for the first wicket. At 114 for three wickets, the match was evenly poised. Henry Nicholls joined Conway to inject much-needed impetus to the innings. They steadied the Kiwi boat by accumulating 174 runs for the fourth wicket.

Mark Wood removed Nicholas for  61 runs, but Conway brought up a classy ton by playing an imperious flick through the square leg region. A lively and fiery bowling display by Wood ripped apart the Kiwi middle order as New Zealand lost four wickets for six runs. On the other end Conway was almost an immovable object. He chaperoned the low-middle-order batsmen and brought up his epic and well-constructed double ton with a thumping pull shot.

Conway was the last man to be dismissed for exactly 200 runs which came from 347 balls with 22 fours and one mighty six. The double ton ground down the hosts and drove the New Zealand first innings score to a substantial 378 runs. Conway wrote his name on the Lord’s honor board. Due to the persistent rain, England managed to draw the test match. But in the next test match NewZealand recorded a famous test triumph and clinched the test series 1-0 for the 1st time in 22 years.

Four years ago Devon Conway was an ordinary South African first-class cricketer, now he has become one of the most promising players in the Kiwi squad.

Some of the Records Conway set in that innings are:

  1. Second Kiwi to score a Test double ton on debut after Mathews Sinclai
  1. Sixth highest individual Test score in debut innings.
  1. First to score a double ton in debut test innings in England.
  1. Highest individual test score on debut at Lords.
  1. Oldest man to score a doubt test ton in debut.

Four years ago Devon Conway was an ordinary South African first-class cricketer, now he has become one of the most promising players in the Kiwi squad.