If there is an advantage to making your Test debut a few weeks short of your 30th birthday, it must be the knowledge that you will have gained in those years about the game and yourself. Perhaps that is why Devon Conway, New Zealand’s latest international sensation, showed no signs of nerves on his first visit to Lord’s.
There was one early scare, when he got a thick inside edge to a Stuart Broad delivery that was arrowing into his pads, leaving the bowler standing head in hands while Conway jogged through his first two runs in Test cricket. Two balls later he punched one through the covers for four, and was away.
None of this was a surprise to those who have witnessed the South Africa-born batsman’s ascent to international renown, one which, after a lengthy delay while he committed to, and qualified for, his adopted country, has been extraordinarily rapid. Having finally been given clearance to play for New Zealand last August he has the country’s highest batting average in Twenty20 internationals (59.12 across 11 innings, at a strike rate of more than 150), and in one-day internationals (75 at 88.23, albeit after only three matches). On 136 not out overnight at Lord’s, he will soon also have the highest average in Tests, when and if he gets out.
By way of a bonus he is also the first New Zealander to score half-centuries in five successive T20 matches and author of the sixth-highest first-class score in the history of the country (327 not out). “A bit of a surprise,” he said this year, “was the fact that international level is not too much of a step up.” Well not, it seems, for him.
Devon Conway scored 136 not out off 240 balls and with 16 fours on the first day of the first Test. Photograph: Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
The last time Conway batted in England was in August 2017, when he scored 45 for Nelson against Ramsbottom in the Lancashire League, a season in which he outscored the club’s next best batsman by nearly 800 runs. A couple of weeks later he pitched up in New Zealand and started talking about playing for his newly adopted country. “I’ve got some friends who play cricket here and they seem to enjoy it and like the lifestyle,” he said at the time. “I thought just give it a go and see what happens.”
Three and a half years later he is their opening batsman, and looking no less at home than he had in previous English summers at Taunton Deane (where he averaged 61.31 in 2010), Matlock (79.88 in 2012), Kearsley (49.74 in 2013), Vauxhall Mallards (60.38 in 2015 and 39.47 the following year) and Nelson. Conway has described these years as “a great time in my life that I look back on very fondly”, and perhaps he might have just given it a go and seen what happened here had Somerset been more excited by what they saw when he turned out for their second XI in 2010 and 2013. He will finally play for their first team when he joins them as an overseas player after the World Test Championship final.
At Lord’s Conway started confidently, scoring 41 off his first 53 deliveries, before retreating into his shell and scoring 13 off his next 52, a period that included a wonderful spell by Jimmy Anderson and Broad immediately after lunch. His one boundary in that time, a nicely timed punch past mid-off, had brought up his half-century, and he was motoring again by the time another four, a delicious wristy flick off his hip, took him to triple figures.
It was a stunning debut, but Conway does not seem the type to get carried away. Just in case, he might have a chat with the last Kiwi to score a century on his debut Test, in 2017. That is if Tom Blundell is still speaking to him – after all, Conway just took his place in the team.
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