Devon Conway might not be Faf du Plessis but he's pretty good

Conway has been brilliant for CSK recently (Pic Credits: DNA India)
Conway has been brilliant for CSK recently (Pic Credits: DNA India)
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Shashwat Kumar

Since their inception into the Indian Premier League (IPL), the Chennai Super Kings have been a side glittered with Indian stars. MS Dhoni – the first bona-fide Indian T20 superstar, has been at the helm of affairs (barring eight games), with the likes of Ravindra Jadeja and Suresh Raina also carving an unparalleled niche for themselves.

Among all this, though, it is very easy to override what CSK have managed with their overseas stars. Very rarely have they broken the bank for one of the in-demand players at the auction; instead, waiting for the right players and the right price.

That particular approach allowed them to bag Faf du Plessis for very cheap in the early 2010s. The South African served CSK with distinction and their association only came to an end because of the mega-auction in 2022. So, with du Plessis departing for newer pastures, many questioned if the defending champions could bring through a replacement as good as the South African.

While the right-handed batter might not have very sparkling overall numbers in the IPL, he has often been a guardian angel for CSK – someone who unerringly stands up when his teams needs him the most.

In 2021, he was named Player of the Match as CSK romped past the Kolkata Knight Riders in the summit clash. And, there are countless other instances illustrating that du Plessis was, in many ways, one of their most crucial components.

At the auction, it wasn’t as if CSK didn’t try hard enough for the South African. They did. But with him going under the hammer so early, the franchise had to hedge their bets slightly, considering they had more than 20 spots to fill across the board.

Understandably, plenty of eyebrows were raised. How could CSK let go of someone who has been so pivotal to their success – that too at a time when Dhoni and Raina are walking into the sunset and continuity is required?

There’s still no answer to that question – something that has been compounded by how woeful they have been in IPL 2022. But if it is any solace, CSK seem to have stumbled upon a very similarly-moulded player. Just like du Plessis, he isn’t very extravagant. He isn’t flashy. He isn’t flamboyant. He is efficient, though, and as the franchise have highlighted all these years, that’s probably what matters more than most other things.

Off the bat, Devon Conway doesn’t have a T20 record that stands out. The average, which stands at 44.42 is pretty astonishing. The strike rate, however, which hovers at 128.67 isn’t considered forceful enough in modern-day T20 cricket. Well, unless you are Virat Kohli, who strikes at a shade over 129 in the IPL.

Conway, akin to Kohli, has a much better strike rate in T20Is (139.35 as opposed to 128.67). That tally is also complemented by an average in excess of 50 and is spread across 20 matches, meaning that Conway has a method that makes him tick in T20 cricket.

For most teams in the IPL, though, that might not count for much. Quite often, sides look towards overseas openers to provide them thrust at the top of the order and be a genuine match-winner in the powerplay. Conway can be that batter on his best day but on a majority of occasions, he will just slip in, and cash in once he establishes himself at the crease.

The obvious question then is whether Conway is adequately armed for the IPL, and if he can be a sustainable commodity. Raw statistics answer in the negative. But Conway, like many other CSK openers before him, isn’t just about runs. He’s about the character, the determination and the excellent temperament.

The Kiwi began the season as CSK’s opener. However, he was dropped from the side post a low score against KKR. He then got married and spent time outside the bubble, meaning that he hasn’t really had time to get himself acclimatized to the IPL and to his surroundings. He has still notched up successive half-centuries, though, indicating that his mental strength is second to none in the CSK outfit.

A deeper dive into Conway’s career trajectory lends plenty of weight to that argument too. Born in South Africa, he found opportunities tough to come by. He then switched to New Zealand, had to wait for his chances and when he got them, he grabbed them with both hands.

It isn’t easy to make your Test debut at Lord’s against England. Conway did it with the minimal of fuss and scored one of the greatest ever double hundreds on debut. He followed it up with another exceptional performance against India in the ICC World Test Championship final – a game where more renowned batters looked well out of their depth.

Devon Conway has sizzled in the past couple of games

Over the course of the past few days, the left-handed batter has shown that he has the strokes to match his steel too. He can attack the spinners down the ground and behind the wicket (courtesy of his sweeps and reverse sweeps). He can also drive the ball through extra cover as gracefully as anyone in the game. And, most importantly, he can walk into tough situations and play them as if he was always meant to.

Against the Royal Challengers Bangalore, almost every other batter struggled for rhythm. Kohli huffed and puffed, du Plessis scored at a brisk strike rate but was fortuitous on several occasions. Moeen Ali and Ruturaj Gaikwad, too, couldn’t get going. Conway, however, bossed the proceedings. Not only did he make things look easy, he seemed a step ahead of the bowlers – always knowing when to unfurl the sweep and when to sit back in his crease.

In many ways, this was an innings that would classify as a refreshing anomaly on what was a challenging batting surface. It was, at the cost of sounding redundant and somewhat ridiculous, an aberration du Plessis was once famous for – especially when clad in yellow.

Quite often, he waltzed out into hopeless situations. He would push. He would prod. He would seem anything but a top-quality batter. But he would always get the job done. From a pure aesthetic point of view, Conway might be a little more elegant. But the similarities elsewhere are too uncanny to be ignored.

This season, CSK haven’t had much to shout home about. They’ve looked lacklustre for large stretches. Their batting and bowling units have alternated to turn in poor performances, and there is a lot of uncertainty around where this franchise is headed, especially after the captaincy back-and-forth between Dhoni and Jadeja.

But with Conway around, CSK will believe they have something to work with. He’s not like other buccaneering left-handers they’ve had in the past (hello Matthew Hayden and Michael Hussey). However, there’s nothing to suggest he won’t be as successful.

Hussey......Faf.....Conway. So CSK!

When his name came up at the auction and the defending champions snapped him up for his base price, many queried if he could do what du Plessis had done at the top for CSK in the past few years. He’s still got plenty of miles to traverse on that front.

The left-handed batter, though, is not another du Plessis. No one in the world can be the CSK version of the South African. But Conway, on early evidence, seems pretty darn good himself. And from a urgent, medium and long-term perspective, that might just be enough for CSK.

Edited by Prasen Moudgal
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