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England vs NZ 2021 – Devon Conway, anatomy of another successful innings

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Devon Conway was 71 not out when Joe Root threw the old ball to Mark Wood, 15 minutes before tea. Other than an announcement over the PA system, there was no way to make the short-ball plan more obvious: fielders were stationed on the boundary at fine leg, long leg and square leg, with three more in close at square leg (again), forward short leg and straight midwicket.

Wood banged his first ball in short towards the ribcage and Conway unfurled a pull shot, as if making a point of hitting it rather than using the ball’s pace to deflect it round the corner, and his placement was perfect, somehow finding the gap between two of the boundary-riders. Wood grimaced in frustration at a shot which encapsulated how easy Conway has made Test cricket look in his first two appearances at this level.

England thought that they had found a gap in Conway’s armour on the first day of the Lord’s Test last week when Wood hit him on the shoulder with a bumper, but he has now hit 40 runs off the 31 short balls he has faced in the series and swivel-pulled with rare elegance, at times resembling Brian Lara with a raised right leg. Conway explained at Lord’s that he had been taken aback by the lack of bounce, having grown up playing on fast pitches in South Africa, and once he had adapted to Wood’s skiddy short stuff, he was away.

The only surprise came when he whipped Stuart Broad off his pads and straight down Zak Crawley’s throat shortly after tea, causing him to throw his head back and shut his eyes in disbelief in his only show of emotion to date. No New Zealand player has scored as many runs across their first three Test innings and few of any nationality can have made such an impression.

“It was good just to be out there in the middle and gain more experience at this level, I suppose,” he said afterwards, with typical understatement. “It was all about trying to be nice and positive, as I am throughout any sort of innings. It was a little bit disappointing getting out on 80 – when you get to those positions you’d really like to cash in as much as you can but such is life.

“It’s a tough challenge facing two guys [Broad and James Anderson] that have been really successful over a number of years but it’s not really about facing the bowler, it’s about facing the ball that’s presented in front of you and sticking within your gameplan.”

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