IPL 2023: CSK, Devon Conway and a run of sheer consistency

4 months ago 84

Devon Conway is a South African who moved to New Zealand to further his cricketing ambitions only at 26. Now 31, his understated demeanour and calmness are symbolic of a Kiwi. Be it compiling a double century on Test debut or dismantling bowling attacks in T20s, Conway goes about performing the toughest of tasks without ever appearing flustered. That is one of the many virtues of this left-handed opening batter who has shown phenomenal consistency across formats since appearing on the international scene in 2020.

Chennai Super Kings batter Devon Conway plays a shot during the IPL 2023 cricket match between Delhi Capitals and Chennai Super Kings(PTI) PREMIUM Chennai Super Kings batter Devon Conway plays a shot during the IPL 2023 cricket match between Delhi Capitals and Chennai Super Kings(PTI)

Consistency and T20s don’t always go hand in hand, but Conway has managed to crack the code. In 38 T20Is for New Zealand, he has racked up 1,234 runs at an average of 45.7 though his strike rate of 130.3 is just passable. His numbers are even better in IPL, where 20 matches for Chennai Super Kings have yielded 837 runs at 49.24. His strike rate of 140.67 is also notably higher. This season, he has taken his performance up a notch by scoring 585 runs in 13 games including six fifties. His latest half-century – 87 off 52 balls – came in a dominant display against Delhi Capitals on Saturday, setting up CSK’s entry into the playoffs for the 12th time in 14 seasons.

The innings reiterated Conway’s supreme skill. Seldom prone to wild heaves or ugly hoicks, he tends to play the percentages and rely on a conventional range of strokes. When he hit off-spinner Lalit Yadav for a six early in his knock for instance, he was quick to use his feet to reach the pitch of the ball before bringing his bat down for a straight drive. The ball was hit aerially, but the shot was bereft of risk.

Even when he was playing nonchalant flicks over the midwicket boundary against pace, it just seemed an extension of a stroke he would play along the ground in a Test.

That, in essence, has been the key to Conway’s consistency. When he was acquired at his base price of 1 crore ahead of IPL 2022, CSK may not have been sure of what to expect. He also had big shoes to step into, considering the calibre of their overseas openers over the years – Matthew Hayden, Mike Hussey, Faf du Plessis and Shane Watson. So far, he has done a commendable job in carrying that tradition.

Asked how he stacks up against Hayden and Hussey as fellow left-handed openers, CSK coach Stephen Fleming, the former left-handed batter and New Zealand skipper, said: “He compares highly. Conway has been a constant. Not just in IPL, every competition that he’s played, his numbers are really high. His consistency over a long period of time is now not questioned. He doesn’t always look the most flamboyant or as easy on the eye as, say Ruturaj (Gaikwad), but his ability to get runs and do the job is high class. He’s a really valued member of the side.”

In Conway’s approach lie a few similarities with Hussey, who played seven seasons for CSK before taking over as their batting coach. Hussey too was perhaps most at home in Tests but was able to find his method in the T20 madness.

Conway’s success is also a shining example of CSK’s ability to create a conducive environment for players to prosper. Where other franchises often have to deal with high-profile overseas players not being able to bed in, CSK seem to ensure that players like Conway deliver more than what they promise.

“There is no recipe as such, you try to pick the best players and you try to give them the best slot where they have more chances of performing,” CSK skipper MS Dhoni said after the victory over Delhi Capitals.

Fleming too shed light on CSK’s reputation. “Often, if players have an area of weakness, you tend to concentrate too much on it. We tend to just concentrate on the good things that a player does. We find that when you give confidence and belief to players, it often hides their weaknesses.”

Not that one needs to find any weakness in a batter with 40-plus scores in eight of 13 innings.

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