A bright future for Devon Conway, who should be in the national team sooner rather than later

2010-11-06 00:00

IT is sad indictment of the state of South African cricket that the two most significant innings played by a young batsman since Jacques Kallis made his first class debut were watched by a pitiful crowd of less than 50 and attracted no mention at all in either the print or electronic media. It is also disgraceful that the innings were played by a young batsman of astounding promise who failed to gain selection for any national side during his school years, despite a school record that can only be described as astonishing.

It gets worse because the officials of the home province of this slender 19-year-old could not raise themselves to make an offer for his services, despite being alerted for several years about the boy’s talent and his determination to succeed as a professional cricketer.

It was left to the astute cricket managers of KZN Inland to recognise that young Devon Conway from St John’s College in Johannesburg was a batsman of rare talent worthy of an investment. It is ironic that the left-handed Conway’s debut came at the Wanderers, the ground where he dreamt of playing for the home team. It was typical that none of the local officials turned up on any day of the four-day match played last weekend. Even had they done so, it is doubtful that they would have recognised the quality of the batsman whose services they so wantonly spurned.

The bald facts of Conway’s batting in his debut match are that he scored 47 off 53 balls in the first innings and followed that up with 86 off 117 balls in the second innings. He top-scored for KZN Inland in both innings. The facts, however cannot do justice to the splendour of his batting.

He scored his runs all round the wicket with an array of dazzling strokes both powerful and subtle. He was unfazed by a diet of short-pitched deliveries that the umpires allowed to be delivered at a rate of four an over. He plays perfectly straight in defence and scores his runs off both the front and back foot.

None of this was a surprise to a small group of spectators who have been watching Conway’s progress over the past four years, although it might have been to Ray Jennings, who saw fit to exclude him from the last SA under-19 team. Most sane watchers of Conway would have had him as their first choice in that team.

Despite his slender stature, Conway is a surprisingly powerful striker of a cricket ball. In his second innings, having only been at the crease for a few minutes, he waltzed down the wicket to the impressive Dale Deeb (who also made a successful debut) and hit him clean out of the Wanderers stadium.

Mostly he hits the ball along the ground. He is unusually adept, for someone so young, at picking up singles and rotating the strike. He reminds one of Graeme Pollock with his ability to dispatch the bad and not-so-bad balls to the boundary. He outscored his partners throughout both of his innings, including Ravi Bopara, the England Test player. Had Bopara not played a stupid shot, it is conceivable that he and Conway would have set the Lions a target more challenging than the 146 runs that they battled to reach. It was almost as though Bopara felt he had to match the array of gorgeous strokes that were flowing from his young partner’s bat.

These are early days for Devon Conway and there are many pitfalls in a young cricketer’s career, but I will be very surprised if he does not soon catch the eye of Andrew Hudson, the chairperson of the national selectors. To my mind Conway is a more gifted and rounded batsman than any of Duminy, Miller and Ingram, the trio of left-handers that have been enjoying service in the national team. All three have noticeable flaws in their batting that Test bowlers will be, and in Duminy’s case have been, able to exploit. Conway’s batting might also have weaknesses, but they have not been visible to my eye, such as it is.

He certainly is mentally very strong. No one scores something like 40 hundreds by the time he leaves school without developing a hunger for runs and a temperament that is fazed by very little. If he is not a future star of international cricket, something will have gone seriously wrong. I have seen enough of him to predict that he will soon be in the national team.

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