Devon Conway: 'Playing in high-intensity games has allowed me to be clearer in different T20 scenarios'
Devon Conway spent the last two months travelling the length and breadth of India with Chennai Super Kings for the IPL. It culminated in a title win in Ahmedabad, where he was also Player of the Final. In this chat Conway talks about a campaign close to his heart.
How unique was the three-day T20 that culminated in CSK's fifth IPL title?
Very unique - an emotional rollercoaster. I had many cups of chai just to keep myself going that late at night when we were all waiting during the rain break, not knowing how many overs we'd get in our chase. It was a little unsettling. Just before going in to bat, Mike Hussey [batting coach] told me, "Mate, think you want a can of Redbull to stay awake?" It was hard to stay mentally switched on, given how late it was. So I had a can of Redbull to get sharp and awake again. It ensured I was switched on from the first ball.
It was actually quite cool to finish the game that way, because we'd never experienced something like that. Jaddu [Ravindra Jadeja] hitting ten off two to win it the way he did made it even more exciting and the boys went on to celebrate the win well into the night and early morning.
What were the celebrations like?
It was crazy. A number of the players missed their flights. Moeen Ali and family postponed their travel by a day. Eric Simons [bowling consultant] cancelled his flight. Dwaine Pretorius also missed his flight; only his family somehow managed to get there in time. We all sat around in the team room and celebrated till about 9am in the morning, soaking in the highs and lows. MS Dhoni was right in the middle of it all. We all had a great time before some went straight to breakfast and others went to bed.
Were you surprised to get the Player-of-the-Match award in the final?
Oh, yeah. For sure. I thought Sai Sudharsan played an unbelievable knock. Jaddu himself had an incredible game with bat and ball. Ambati Rayudu's cameo didn't seem like much but it was certainly game-changing. So yeah, I was surprised, but at the end of the day, I don't worry about winning or missing out on individual awards. Winning trophies together as a group is what I dream of.
Did you go "oops" after you woke up to a social media storm for saying it was the "biggest win of your career"?
(Laughs) It was about 3.30am in the morning. We were going through so many emotions, and I probably said it without realising what I meant. Of course, winning the WTC final was unbelievable and truly a highlight, but certainly this win was also very much up there with what I've achieved so far. A few [New Zealand] lads kept bantering with me for a few hours after that, but it was all good.
Sportsmen can get caught up with some stuff in the heat of the moment and regret it later. Like I did when I missed the T20 World Cup final in 2020 after punching my bat in frustration in the semi-final. I didn't realise it then, but it cost me a final and my finger was broken. But we all learn from it.
What is it about CSK that makes players want to go the extra mile?
The culture is set right at the top. There's a family feel. They all go the extra mile to make you feel welcome. Last year they organised a wedding celebration for us with a South Indian theme. It was a massive surprise for me, I didn't even have an inkling of how much went into that, especially in a bio-bubble. Kim [Conway's wife] joined in via Zoom. They'd organised some amazing decor, great food, traditional clothes, music. It was a fun evening like no other. And everyone played a part in it - those I knew, those I was just getting to know. That creates great vibes and a sense of belonging.
On the cricketing front, there's continuity. Players know if they're being picked, they will be backed, come what may. They don't worry about what happens if they're smashed for 50 runs in four overs or if they get three single-digit scores in a row. There's space for players to get better, flourish and improvise without that added pressure or scrutiny. It makes players confident about what they're going to do.
You and Ruturaj Gaikwad have good camaraderie. Tell us about it.
We get along really well on and off the field. I admire the way he bats. He's pleasing on the eye when he gets going, but the thing that also helps me is, when there's a lot of pressure to put the opposition under the pump, it helps to have a guy who is calm, clear. It makes it a lot easier at the non-striker's end knowing you're in it together. Rutu knows more or less when I am trying too hard, or if the options I'm taking are wrong. He'll tell me straight away, so there's a lot of honesty and openness with each other.
A lot of people draw parallels between your game and Michael Hussey's. What have you learnt from him?
He's been very beneficial. There are a lot of similarities: both left-handers who aren't probably the most powerful going around but who maximise other ways to be equally effective. Lots of times, the things I'm feeling or thinking are what he must've felt. Having the opportunity to ask and chat about different scenarios and going about different situations was very reassuring.
Your coach, Stephen Fleming, is known to be structured. MS Dhoni is known to not believe in team meetings. How did that work for you?
It's a great combination. Flem's learnt to cut team meetings down to the very bare minimum. I don't think there's often a team meeting that goes longer than three-four minutes, which is great. Not that there's a lot to say. Flem understands there's a lot of experience in the group, guys know what they need to do to win. That gives us players a sense of trust that he'll allow us to go out and express ourselves and the results will take care of itself.
The combination of MS' relaxedness around meetings and Flem allowing guys to go about their business to make sure they know what they need and what to do to win games is very beneficial as a group.
What has your relationship been like with Dhoni?
I've been lucky to spend quite a lot of time with him. Moeen, MS, [Ajinkya] Rahane and I spent a lot of time in the team room watching a lot of IPL games, talking about different teams and strategies, and in general, life beyond cricket. The relationship I have with MS is cool; he gives me a lot of banter and chirp, quirky one-liners. Now I've started to give it back to him (laughs).
The respect is immense. Every time he walks into a room, there's an aura around him. You want to talk to him, understand what he has to say because of his status in cricket and what he has achieved. We were fortunate to play a lot of snooker late nights and early mornings. MS and I were in one team and would often play Moeen and his close friend Tanvir, practically his godson. And our games would start shortly after heading back to the hotel from a match to around 2-3am. We've shared a lot of laughs and good, constructive chats around those games and how to approach different situations and those sorts of things.
Your keeping sessions with him were apparently quite hilarious.
He's learnt his craft over so many years and I guess it's hard for him to explain how he does things because it's so natural. The sessions were funny. What was actually simple for him was so complicated for me since I'm still just part-time. He's on a different wavelength to how I am when I work on my wicketkeeping. It was all the more incredible because he doesn't keep at training.
What things do you feel you have got better at?
I feel like I'm accessing the ball better on the on-side now. That has been one of my limitations in the past. It's not where I want it to be, but surely better. I've started discovering more of the lap and scoop shots as an option, which is something I wouldn't normally go to often in the past. Trying to experiment and grow my game has become a part of my arsenal now. Just playing a lot more in these high-intensity games has allowed me to be clearer and experienced in different scenarios in T20 cricket. There's still place for improvement and ways for improvement going forward.