England vs NZ 2021 – Devon Conway, anatomy of another successful innings
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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.
“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.”
Things could have been very different. On 22, Conway had edged a low chance to second slip which was scooped up by Crawley, but stood his ground, waiting for a definitive verdict. Richard Kettleborough gave a soft signal of not out as he referred the decision to Michael Gough, the third umpire, who found no hard evidence that a mistake had been made. It was “Schrödinger’s catch – out and not out simultaneously,” Daniel Norcross suggested on Test Match Special.
Broad was visibly exasperated, and pundits queued up to criticise the soft-signal protocols, which has already been scrapped in the IPL and will soon be up for debate at ICC level. Jason Holder, the former West Indies captain, tweeted, “How much longer will the soft signal cloud the game?” but in the case of marginal slip catches leaving the decision solely to the third umpire is no silver bullet: issues of foreshortening mean that they are destined to be unclear and contentious regardless.
Conway’s only obvious deficiency has been a proclivity to play a fraction outside the line of the ball, bringing chop-ons via the inside edge into play. At Lord’s, he inside-edged 25 times against seamers – including once onto his stumps in the second innings – compared to only one outside edge, according to CricViz’s data, and the figures were six and three respectively today. He has also had limited exposure to top-quality spin bowling, and will be tested by R Ashwin in the World Test Championship final next week.
Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98