Prior to the return of Plunket Shield cricket, I threw up a bunch of stats to suggest that Wellington Firebirds batsman Devon Conway is the best in Aotearoa right now. Leading Super Smash run-scorer, 5th in Ford Trophy runs and 1st in Plunket Shield runs with strike-rates that perfectly aligned to the respective formats was the picture painted before we started the second stanza of Plunket Shield this summer.
So what did Conway get up into in Wellington's drawn game vs Northern Districts Knights? Not-out on 156, Conway took his Plunket Shield season to 605 runs @ 151.25 (4 not-outs) with two centuries, two half-centuries in 8inns. Support mainly came from Rachin Ravindra, who hit 96 and this is low key notable because it's Ravindra's second 50+ score in 3inns, after cracking various Aotearoa 'A' squads prior to making his Plunket Shield debut.
Ravindra currently sits on 60.66avg and is proving himself to be an enticing prospect in his first summer of domestic cricket. This is the summer of Conway though and it's reasonably clear that Conway operates on a different level to most domestic batsmen, which is perhaps most evident in his ability to play shortish deliveries just outside off-stump through gully/point with a straight bat.
Most of the examples of this were against Scott Kuggeleijn, because if James Baker or Zak Gibson dipped short, Conway would simply pull them. With Kuggeleijn's extra dash of pace, Conway was able to score of deliveries that would probably ruffle the feathers of other domestic batsmen who can't back-foot drive, or delicately dissect the off-side. Conway merely rises either to his toes or beyond and via a high backlift, pings the ball late and thus through the gully/point region.
Conway has the pure batting aspects sussed, as well as stuff like this where his feet are planted and his wrists access the ball. This ended up being a windmill outside edge over the slips, but the base is unconventional and an example of Conway's mastery:
There were a few other innings that tickled my fancy, led by Mark Chapman hitting 104 off 145 which ensured Auckland Aces only had to bat once in their win over Otago Volts. Chapman hasn't quite backed up his break out summer last season, with a solid Super Smash campaign and limited Ford Trophy cricket. Chapman is joined by Glenn Phillips (60 off 110) in being the low key batsmen of the Plunket Shield, with Chapman and Phillips both averaging 59.75.
Chapman has a century and half-century in 4inns, with 239 runs @ 59.75avg/74.68sr. Usually I don't buzz about Plunket Shield strike-rates but Chapman is the only batsman with 200+ runs and a strike-rate over 70.
Phillips also has 239 runns @ 59.75avg, but has his runs in 5inns and via three half-centuries. Kiwi cricket fans definitely know all about Chapman and Phillips, however they tend to be known for their coloured clothing antics and are currently hitting their growth spurts by significant runs in Plunket Shield.
Also notable on the low key buzz, is Dane Cleaver being 2nd in Plunket Shield runs behind Conway after going back to back with scores of 65 and 63 in Central Districts Stags loss to Canterbury. This puts Cleaver as the best wicket-keeper batsman of the Plunket Shield, with 406 runs @ 58 in 8inns via a century and four half-centuries.
Next best is Canterbury's Cameron Fletcher who put up scores of 60 and 22* vs CD, then Phillips who played as a wicket-keeper despite Ben Horne being in the Aces team.
Finally, can we spark one up for George Worker. The Stags batsman suffered through a Super Smash campaign in which he averaged 18.36 and hit 83 in the second innings of CD vs Canterbury game. Worker vanished from Blackcaps ODI opener contention via his lack of runs and while that shipped seems to have sailed in terms of the World Cup, it's lovely to have Worker back in the runs.
Finally, finally; I'd throw up the idea of Cole McConchie being the spinner from Canterbury who you should be paying attention to. McConchie took 4w @ 2.82rpo in the second dig, not required in the first and had the same total number of wickets in this game as Todd Astle. Look beyond this game and you'll find McConchie averaging 19.40/3.35rpo with 10w and he's joined by CD's Dean Foxcroft as the all-round spinners who have better records than Ish Sodhi, Will Somerville and Jeetan Patel in the Plunket Shield this summer.
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Peace and love 27.