We are barely a couple weeks into the domestic cricket summer and there's already a rather major situation brewing thanks to Wellington Firebirds batsman Devon Conway. Having forced his way into some winter Blackcaps stuff on the back of run-scoring domination last summer, Conway came out the gate in Plunket Shield round tahi with scores of 96 and 19, followed by a delightful 261* in the Firebirds first innings vs Canterbury.
I'm writing this on Wednesday morning, so prior to the start of day two at the Basin Reserve and as Conway is not-out on 261, there is a sniff of Conway cracking the triple-hundy mark. As long as Conway isn't sent back to the sheds by a Cantab bowler, one would suspect that Firebirds skipper Michael Bracewell will let Conway pass the 300-run mark before declaring with possibly 500+ runs on the board; Wellington start day two on 415/6.
The funk around Conway isn't just because of how he has started this summer. Throughout my time covering domestic cricket, hot batsmen have come and gone, churning out all sorts of runs before slipping down the pecking order and then there are batsmen who churn out big runs, then more runs and then a few more just for shits and giggles. To really appreciate Conway's production, we need to slide back to last season and set things up.
Last summer, I dubbed Conway the best domestic batsman overall. Conway finished 1st in Plunket Shield runs and Super Smash runs, which in itself is kinda bonkers given that one format came with a strike-rate of 52.72 and the other 144.04. Dominating two formats, with strike-rates that match that format is one of my key indicators of a quality batsman and on top of that, Conway racked up runs in Ford Trophy to finish 5th in runs. Conway was the only batsman to finish in the top-five run-scorers for each format.
Conway's Plunket Shield campaign last season featured a double-hundy, one of two 200+ scores across the Plunket Shield with Central Districts Stags opener Greg Hay the other. This makes Conway's knock yesterday (261 runs in one day) his second double-hundy in as many seasons and it adds to his tally of 16 First Class centuries and 28 halfies.
With 98 FC games to his name, most of which were in South Africa, Conway came to Aotearoa with a fabulous FC record. Conway's FC debut was way back in 2009, which would have made him 17-18 years-old and he debuted in the same Gauteng team as current South African Test batsman Temba Bavuma and OG seamer Andre Nel. Chuck all that in a pot and you have a hearty boil up of a dude who was already among the best domestic batsmen in South Africa, then he came to Aotearoa and like many kiwi-Africans on the domestic circuit; Conway flexed.
Every box is being ticked for Conway to graduate up to the nek level and represent Aotearoa. It's one thing to celebrate Conway and chuck him in the Blackcaps mix, bringing him around the Blackcaps before he's eligible for selection next year. It's a completely different thingy when Conway continues to score consistently in the mean time, taking his case for selection to borderline irresistible levels and doing so across all three formats. Some batsmen in Conway's position may not have that ruthlessness to keep on scoring runs when a nod of approval comes from the higher level, yet Conway appears to have a hunger for runs that only folks who resemble Kane Williamson share.
Like any high quality batsman, Conway scores all around the park. What stands out to me though is his touch through the off-side, notably through the third-man region to point. As a handy wicket-keeper, Conway's super comfy on the pull and the cut shot, with cut shots flying up over gully or to backward point. Conway's ability to drive through point off the back foot gets me going the most though, which when combined with soft hands to guide the ball past slips and smoke cut shots to anything with width would be a nightmare to bowl to.
Regardless of what happens today, Conway has already exploded with runs to start the season and he's done so after a summer in which he established himself as the best batsman on the domestic circuit. Sometimes, this type of form patch fizzles out into nothing. Sometimes, this type of form is the mark of a supreme craftsman who is taking a wee all over domestic cricket and claiming his turf. Devon Conway is the matua of domestic batsmen right now and I'd suggest you pay attention.
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Peace and love 27.