Four years ago he played his last domestic match in South Africa scoring a maiden first-class double hundred for Gauteng at the Wanderers. No one, leave alone Johannesburg-born, Devon Philip Conway would have imagined how life would change in the years to come. After a sensational start to his limited overs’ career for his adopted country, New Zealand, the left-hander, had a dream debut at the Mecca of Cricket on the 2nd of June, 2021 scoring what could well turn out to be a match-defining hundred for his team in the series opener against hosts England.
Conway was a heavy scorer at the second-level first-class domestic circuit in South Africa but did not make an impression in his limited opportunities in top-tier cricket in the country. Frustrated at his returns, he decided to move to New Zealand in August 2017 when the ‘Kolpak’ would have been a more tempting and traditional route to pursue.
The move transformed Conway and his fortunes saw a dramatic turn.
Conway was the highest run-getter in the Plunket Shield - New Zealand’s premier first-class competition - for two successive seasons - in 2018-19 and 2019-20. He aggregated 659 runs in 12 innings at a stunning average of 82.37 with 2 hundreds in 2018-19 and 701 runs in 11 innings at an average of 87.62 and strike rate of 69.06 with one hundred and three fifties in 2019-20. He continued on his merry run in 2020-21 too scoring 456 runs in 9 innings at an average of 50.66 with one century and two fifties.
Conway’s highlight during this period was a stunning unbeaten 327 off just 352 deliveries for Wellington against Canterbury at the Basin Reserve in October-November 2019. Coming in to bat at number three in just the fourth over which soon worsened to 20 for 3 and 54 for 4, Conway led Wellington’s fightback and was in a different zone forming big partnerships with the lower-order dominating the bowling attack from the other end. It was just the eighth triple century scored in New Zealand.
It was only a matter of time when the wicket-keeper batsman turned out for New Zealand. He qualified to play for the national side in September 2020 and immediately made an impact on international debut - in a T20I match against the West Indies in Auckland in November. Conway, batting at number three scored a quick 41 off just 29 deliveries giving the impetus at the top of the order.
The upward swing has continued thereafter. The left-hander has already hammered 473 runs in 11 T20 matches for New Zealand at an average of 59.12 and strike rate of 151.11 including four fifties. His highest impact knock came against Australia in Christchurch in February this year. Batting at number four, with New Zealand in disarray at 19 for 3, Conway blasted an unbeaten 99 off 59 deliveries helping his team post a competitive 184 which proved too match for the visitors.
Conway was in scintillating form in T20 cricket in the Super Smash too - New Zealand’s premier domestic T20 tournament. He was the highest scorer both in 2018-19 and 2019-20 hammering 543 runs in 11 innings at a strike rate of 145.18 with a century and 5 fifties last season.
Conway dominated the New Zealand domestic circuit in 2019-20 astonishingly ending as the highest run-getter in all premier domestic competitions. After his exploits in the Plunket Shield and Super Smash, he also had the maximum aggregate in the Ford Trophy - the tier-one List A tournament in New Zealand. Conway smashed 553 runs in 10 innings at a strike rate of 99.46 with two hundreds and 4 fifties in the competition. He was the pivot in the batting helping Wellington to two title triumphs in the season (the Plunket Shield and the Super Smash).
The swashbuckling left-hander was the Player of the Match (Player of the Series) blasting 126 off 110 deliveries in just his third ODI appearance helping New Zealand sweep the three match series against Bangladesh at his new home town in Wellington.
After a splendid start in both 50-over and 20-over cricket for New Zealand, Conway produced a brilliant hundred on his Test debut at the start of the English summer at Lord’s. He could not have chosen a more historic venue to record what was a masterclass in batting on Day 1 in London. Conway showed a solid defensive technique but whenever the opportunity presented he was not shy of cashing in - his 16 fours in his undefeated 136 a testimony of this achievement. The left-hander was mostly in charge against the likes of Anderson, Broad, Wood and another impressive debutant - Oliver Robinson and was in control for 82% of his innings - a very high percentage given the conditions in England. His most productive shot was the flick which fetched him 36 runs.
What made the knock even more special was the position from which it was achieved. Conway is not a natural opener and has batted at number three or four for a majority of his international innings in the limited overs formats. Even in the Plunket Shield, number three is his preferred position.
During the course of his innings, Conway broke the 25-year old record set by former India captain, Sourav Ganguly for the highest score for a debutant at Lord’s. Ganguly had registered a magnificent 131 against England at Lord’s in June 1996 - the same match in which another famous debutant Rahul Dravid scored 95. Overall, it was the sixth instance of a debutant to score a hundred at the historic venue.
Interestingly, Conway and Ganguly were both born on the 8th of July!
It has been a fascinating story for the wicket-keeper batsman who along with Quinton de Kock and Temba Bavuma was in the reckoning for the South Africa Under-19 team in 2010. He sold his car and property back in South Africa and started his new stint in New Zealand training 10-11 year olds in and around schools in Wellington.
Success has not come easy for Conway and he has worked hard at his game and also studying carefully greats like Kohli, AB and Root. He is not very young and will soon turn 30 next month. But going by his form and the start he has made across formats in international cricket, Conway has finally arrived and his here to stay for now!