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New Zealand 'leap of faith' pays off for South African Conway

By Neil SANDS
South Africa Devon Conway was struggling in South Africa before a bold move to New Zealand turned around his cricketing fortunes in spectacular fashion.  By Marty MELVILLE (AFP)
OCT 14, 2021 LISTEN
Devon Conway was struggling in South Africa before a bold move to New Zealand turned around his cricketing fortunes in spectacular fashion. By Marty MELVILLE (AFP)

By his own admission, Devon Conway was struggling in South Africa before a bold move to New Zealand turned around his cricketing fortunes in spectacular fashion.

The left-handed batsman now finds himself a key part of a Black Caps squad intent on continuing their winning ways at the T20 World Cup starting this week after claiming the inaugural World Test Championship.

Just over four years ago, Conway was a journeyman domestic cricketer in his South African homeland, regarded as capable but not on the radar for the Proteas.

Former teammate Omphile Ramela said the powers-that-be in South African cricket referred to Conway as an "amateur bully" who could dominate domestic attacks but was not good enough for international cricket.

With his career at a standstill, the Johannesburg-born batsman headed overseas in September 2017 at the age of 26 looking for new experiences.

Rather than tread the well-worn path from South Africa to English county cricket, Conway pitched up in Wellington on the advice of compatriot Malcolm Nofal, who had enjoyed a spell playing in the New Zealand capital.

"I sort of realised that I hadn't taken the opportunities I'd been given with both hands and I wasn't going to play any higher in South Africa, so I took a leap of faith and came over to New Zealand," Conway, now 30, told AFP.

"I knew I still wanted to play international cricket but the Blacks Caps seemed a million miles away at the time."

For Conway, it was "about getting back my enjoyment of the game and finding a way to play cricket the way I used to when I was growing up".

Casting aside the doubts that had shackled his performances in South Africa, Conway lit up New Zealand's domestic cricket scene, topping the batting charts across all three formats in his first two full seasons with Wellington.

'Once in a generation'

Named domestic player of the year in 2020, Conway was fast-tracked into the Black Caps after his three-year residency was completed, with chief selector Gavin Larsen saying his talent was "impossible to ignore".

He impressed at international level in limited-overs formats, with The New Zealand Herald hailing him as "a once-in-a-generation player" -- high praise indeed when his teammates include the likes of skipper Kane Williamson.

Conway then launched his Test career in June this year with a scintillating 200 against England at Lord's, setting a record score for a debutant at the ground regarded as the home of cricket.

He followed up later that month by helping New Zealand notch an upset win over Virat Kohli's India in the final of the World Test Championship.

The victory eased painful memories for New Zealand of back-to-back losses in the finals of the 2015 and 2019 one-day World Cups.

"It has given the group that confidence," Conway said.

"We felt that we've been in and around those finals for the last few ICC events and now we know we can win those moments."

Conway has no experience in the UAE -- co-host of the T20 World Cup -- but is unfazed, saying he would rely on advice from teammates who have played there previously.

While playing in a World Cup is "epic", Conway said the key to success was maintaining the level-headed approach he brought to his game since his move to New Zealand, no matter how intense the atmosphere.

"The biggest thing for me is, try not to make too much of a big occasion out of it, at the end of the day, it's still another game of cricket," he said.

"It's about keeping a simple focus, taking each game at a time and not looking too far ahead."

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