Devon Conway was not an opening bat

That man who opened the innings for the first time in 1158 days, and made a hundred on debut at Lord's.

Devon Conway is not an opening bat.

Image from Sky.

He has done it 19 times before today. That is not a lot of times to open before doing so in your first Test at Lords. Conway is a number three, but has also spent a bit of time at four and five. But he's waited ten years to play a Test, and so he'll take the spot where it comes.

But in those twenty innings, he has not done that well. He's averaged 25, and in any other regular spot he's over 35. I mean, he's a middle-order player, one with decent skill against the new ball, and now he's having to go up a level and try it there.

His last knock opening the batting was in 2018. The time before that was 2014, and the one before that was 2011. Meaning in the last nine years, he's opened twice in first class cricket to warm up for this innings.

Put it this way, at lunch, Conway was 43*. That was his fourth-highest score opening in a first class match. His hundred took him to his highest score.  This was his third time passing first class 50 in the position. That is almost unbelievable.

That doesn't mean he looked out of place; there was a couple of quick balls that bothered him. England ended up with a leg slip after tea. That's about the time you're just hoping something will work.

And like many batters, he almost gave away his wicket when he just made his hundred. Clearly England believes he's not great when the seamers come around the wicket. There he looked more eager to get off strike, and England tried that a lot. Clearly something they knew about him going in, And he's a 29-year-old player who's played across two first class systems, so it's not that surprising.

In fact, Freddie Wilde tweeted this.

And the minute I saw this, it gave me flashbacks to working for teams. The two worst things for an analyst are not having information on a player or knowing that their team will be. It means you don't know how much you need to do on a player, which leads to half-arsed analysis. But also, the more players you mention to your captains and bowlers, the more confusion and less information they get. For Conway, they had 24 hours to ensure they knew their plan to him.

And that means a lot to a player like Conway, who is not a great professional opener. And it goes deeper as well. As good as Conway has been in this innings, his numbers suggest he has struggled when playing at slightly higher levels in his career. Playing for Gauteng and Wellington, he was simply amazing. But those are lower levels of first class cricket. Gauteng isn't franchise cricket, and while the Plunkett Shield is a decent comp, it's not as strong as franchise cricket in South Africa.

And when he played franchise cricket, he wasn't that good. Over two teams, he never quite cracked that level of cricket in South Africa in different eras. He probably just needed a longer run, because I would also say he's a better player than this. Also, he was doing this at the top level, his only experience of English conditions before this tour were League cricket. So you have a 29-year-old player, who had to leave his homeland to build a career, who comes with the damage that being a late bloomer brings, playing in a position he is not used to, and making his debut against Stuart Broad and Anderson in their home.

This is why I think New Zealand set him up a bit here to fail. And how Conway starts matters for New Zealand. Players of Conway's ability don't arrive in their system that often. And many quality South African players have struggled to make it work.

Here, let me tell you about one of my favourite players. Years ago I was obsessed with the International cricket Captain game on my phone. And I played as Victoria, and you could bring in one overseas player.

I always chose Obus Pienaar - a left-arm fast bowler from South Africa who could bat. So of course I looked him up because his stats on the game were just disgustingly good. Now it turns out, he wasn't left-arm fast, but medium-fast. That alone is handy as so few medium pacers are southpaws. But his batting was as good as the game suggests.

Pienaar averages 45 with the bat and 28 with the ball in first class cricket, mostly at the level that Conway bossed. And he spent two years in New Zealand and couldn't make it to first class cricket, and ended up back in South Africa. If you're Conway, you're competing against local players who know the conditions and are already in the system. And many other South Africans trying to beat you there. Plus there is a money thing, visas, and being away from your support bubble. Pienaar was quality and never made it. Conway did.

We already know that New Zealand probably overproduces their local talent; they can only hope that they continue. But either way, they just can't afford for a player of Conway's obvious talent to struggle. The bigger countries can misuse their talent and still be ok; New Zealand has to be so careful.

But if this is important for them, it all means so much more to Conway. This is his career and life. He has done everything to get right here, and then when he does, it's in a job he's no good at, in foreign conditions, against two of the highest wicket-takers of all time.

So with all that, think about this innings. It's a remarkable knock. It's obvious the pitch was friendly for batting, and England perhaps don't know as much about him as they'd like, and a frontline off-spinner might have been handy. Those are the caveats, but he made a hundred with so many historical things against him.

This may end up being his best innings in Tests. Or the beginning of a lovely little late-blooming career.  But it doesn't matter, Devon Conway has produced something so brilliant and unlikely here against all the odds in front of him.

Devon Conway was not an opening bat. Until today.