New Zealand's Devon Conway on his way to a maiden Test century at Lord’s against England. Picture: Action Images via Reuters/Andrew Couldridge
New Zealand's Devon Conway on his way to a maiden Test century at Lord’s against England. Picture: Action Images via Reuters/Andrew Couldridge

Geoff Toyana very happy as former player Devon Conway delivers for NZ at Lord’s

By Stuart Hess Time of article published Jun 3, 2021

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JOHANNEBURG - Geoff Toyana says Devon Conway’s inability to transfer form and talent from junior and semi-professional level, to franchise cricket proved very frustrating for him as a coach.

Toyana watched on excitedly on Wednesday as one of his former players - who he’d started working with at under-19 level - donned the black cap of New Zealand, made his Test debut at Lord’s and then went on to score a hundred on the first day.

ALSO READ: New Zealand’s Devon Conway gets debut ton at Lords, Ollie Robinson engulfed in racism row

“I’m just so very, very happy for him,” said Toyana. “He’s such a nice boy. He’s put the numbers up in New Zealand and deserved his chance. I was a little surprised to see him open, but very excited that he could make his debut at Lord’s and make a hundred, and that shot, the flick he played to get there...amazing.”

There was no bigger supporter of Conway as he made his way through the ranks in Gauteng than Toyana. “Since working with him at under-19 level, he’d always make runs, he had a hunger for big runs, it never left him. However, he’d make the runs for the semi-pro team (the Gauteng Strikers), we’d pick him for the Lions, and he just never could score those big runs in franchise cricket.”

“For me it was very frustrating with him because I knew he had the ability. He’d come into my office when I was still coaching the Lions and ask: ‘but coach, what must I do?’ And I’d say, ‘go make a double hundred for the (semi-pro) team and then he’d do so and make more runs in the games afterwards’.”

ALSO READ: Devon no Con as he shows the Way as a Kiwi

“So we’d pick him, and I think in about 20 four-day games when I coached the Lions he averaged about 16.”

At the time, the Lions had a strong veteran core that included Neil McKenzie, Alviro Petersen and Stephen Cook. “Our franchise system at that time wasn’t easy. It was hard to make it into a team and then for batsmen it was hard work on some difficult pitches.”

Conway made his debut for the Lions in 2013/14 season, playing five matches and averaging just under 23. The following season, he played just three times, as the Lions won the Four-Day title, scoring 54 runs in five innings.

“I also think Dev put a lot of pressure on himself. From all the people in Gauteng talking about him, to coaches, teachers and other players and then he comes into the Lions dressing room at the time, with those older guys, I think he wanted to impress them and when he didn’t make runs he must have thought to himself, ‘well, what do they think of me, am I good enough?’ He was disappointed, he’d let himself down. It was tough.”

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Toyana was among the people Conway approached before leaving for New Zealand. “He came to see me in my office. It was a timely decision on his part, I think he needed that change of scenery.

“What he showed in New Zealand was great mental toughness. To go there, in a completely new environment and to be successful says a lot about him...and that the hunger for big run scoring didn’t disappear.”

Toyana explained that there are lessons for South African cricket in how to manage young talent, and the expectations placed on players. “I was talking to a player this week about Dev, and he was saying he faced something similar coming through the ranks and being compared to Jacques Kallis. I see the same thing happening now with Wiaan Mulder. We need to stop that.

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“As coaches we also perhaps get too excited too quickly,” said Toyana. “Perhaps we should be saying, ‘look don’t be someone else, just stick to the basics.’ Cricket is a sport where you fail a lot, it’s about learning from those failures, and then you just need to keep going. Dev did that.”

@shockerhess

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