“At the end of the day, there are stats in this game, but you know if you’re winning World Cups, people will remember those moments more.”
Before he made his Test debut, Devon Conway was asked about the landmarks he’d love to tick off during his career by his Wellington team-mate Logan van Beek on the podcast Follow Through with LVB. Having grown up watching Jacques Kallis wait for 15 years to hit his maiden Test double-hundred, Conway said he dreamed of scoring one of his own… and winning a one-day World Cup.
In his very first Test innings, Conway made a sublime double-century against England at Lord’s and two Tests later, he won the inaugural World Test Championship. He then sustained a finger injury during the Hundred, but is now fit and ready to take a crack at the World Cup.
“There hasn’t been too much specific that I’ve been working on,” Conway said before flying out to the UAE. “I’ve been going through a months’ work of fitness training that the fitness trainer Chris Donaldson has sent me through, so there’s been a lot of fitness work done over the last month and then I’ve just allowed my finger to recover after the slight injury that I had a few months ago. But it’s all looking pretty positive and then just going through the T20 preparation – trying to work out a formula and what sort of plans I’m going to try and execute over in the UAE.”
The odds are stacked against Conway in the UAE. He has never played in the country before and has only once toured the subcontinent, having travelled to Sri Lanka on a school visit way back in 2005. Conway is hoping to pick the brains of the other players who are more familiar with these conditions. Ten of New Zealand’s World Cup squad members are currently part of the second leg of the IPL in the UAE.
“I wouldn’t say I’ve had much experience in these sorts of conditions, so I’m looking forward to the challenges that lie ahead,” Conway said. “We have quite a lot of experience around in the group that have played on that sort of a level and in the sort of conditions, so I’m sure I’ll be having lots of conversations with guys that have been there in the past and learning from them and going forward.”
Conway has also been working with batting coach Luke Ronchi who has played 31 T20s in the UAE, scoring 976 runs at an average of 33.65 and strike rate of 158.69. Ronchi’s muscle at the top was central to Islamabad United winning their second PSL title in 2018. The UAE hosted the league stage that season before the tournament moved to Pakistan for the knockouts.
“It’s winning competitions, doing well for your team and creating a legacy once you’ve left [the game].”
“Yeah, I’ve been working quite closely with Luke Ronchi and he’s been around Wellington,” Conway said. “He’s had a fair bit of experience playing in the UAE, so I’ve had a lot of conversations with him about certain game plans and what to expect and what a certain way of scoring looks like. So, there’ve been quite a lot of conversations, so I suppose sometimes it’s a lot better experiencing that at the nets prior to the game starting, so I look forward to getting over there and training.”
Conway usually opens the batting for Wellington, but his left-handedness and busy approach has given New Zealand a good option in the middle order. In the past international home summer, he made four fifty-plus scores, including an unbeaten 99 off 59 balls against Australia in Christchurch. He had also stepped up in the Super Smash final earlier this year, cracking an unbeaten 93 off 63 balls to help Wellington hunt down 176 and successfully defend their T20 title. Anticipating yorkers on the stumps from Canterbury’s Will Williams in the final over, Conway gave himself swinging room to access the offside and close out the victory. Sure, Conway is no power-hitter but such smarts could serve him well in the UAE where the pitches are tiring at the IPL.
The experience of having dealt with pressure at the WTC final against India will also be beneficial for Conway. “The bigger thing for me is, try not to make too much of a big occasion out of it,” he said. “At the end of the day, it’s still another game of cricket… so, it’s about taking each game at a time and not looking too far ahead. Then in saying that, being in the UAE, trying to experience the occasion will be pretty cool. It’ll be one of those where I try and cherish for a long time, but definitely looking forward to the challenges that lie ahead.”
Conway has played only a handful of internationals so far, but a big performance in a group that includes India and Pakistan to follow the Test heroics in England could define his career.
“I’d love to win a World Cup – whether one day or T20 World Cup – that’d be pretty special,” Conway had told van Beek, who is part of Namibia’s World Cup squad. “You know watching how the guys went about it in England not so long ago – just seeing how much pride and how much they did for New Zealand as a whole and how the people reacted to that and the way they played their cricket was pretty cool to see.
“I wasn’t involved or I wasn’t even in England but to see how much it means to the people here to step up and show what a small nation it is to achieve such a cool goal – it’ll be quite special. At the end of the day, there are stats in this game, but you know if you’re winning World Cups, people will remember those moments more than: oh, he averaged 40 in the first-class game or he took a ten-for. It’s more to that. It’s winning competitions, doing well for your team and creating a legacy once you’ve left [the game].”
Deivarayan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo