The batsman’s residency status is causing issues but the coach is in no doubt he is a Test player
New Zealand coach Gary Stead is hopeful that issues around Devon Conway’s ability to leave and return to the country in the prevailing Covid-19 border restrictions will be sorted in time for him to be part of the Test squad to travel to England in May.
The tour includes two Tests against England and then the World Test Championship final against India at the end of June. Conway, who qualified for New Zealand last August, has yet to make his Test debut but after a stellar season in limited-overs cricket, he has made an almost irrefutable case for a place in the squad, although how he gets into the XI remains a puzzle for the selectors.
Under current New Zealand government border regulations, only permanent residents of the country can leave and return because of the Covid-19 processes involved. Although Conway qualified for national duty last year, his residency application remains to be completed – with the pandemic adding to the delay – so either that needs to be fast-tracked or an exemption will need to be gained.
“Think it’s still in the pipeline but my understanding is Devon has been spoken to and is hopeful everything will be in place before [the tour],” Stead said. “You’ve all seen how Devon’s played this year; think I want him part of that Test squad, definitely.
“I knew he was a good player, guess at times you can be pleasantly surprised how people make that adjustment. Devon looks like he’s got all the skills of being an amazing player. We are very fortunate that we’ve had people in our squad like Ross Taylor and Kane Williamson and you see someone like Devon Conway come along and you think here’s another guy who could be in that class.”
New Zealand will take a squad of 20 to England – the group will be named next Thursday – so there is plenty of room for Conway, but there isn’t an easy answer for who he replaces in the XI if he is to make his debut. Will Young was preferred as the next-in-line batsman earlier in the season against West Indies.
Apart from captain Williamson, Taylor, Tom Latham and Henry Nicholls would appear to be locked in. But with an average of 29.75 in his last nine Tests, the spotlight could come on Taylor, which potentially leaves one batting slot unless the balance of the side is changed to leave out an allrounder.
There could be a short-term opening for the first Test against England, which starts June 2, if Williamson is unavailable because of his IPL commitments, but that would only kick the longer-term decision down the road.
Tom Blundell has been Latham’s most recent opening partner (Young replaced him for one Test this season when Blundell took the gloves) but although Conway averages over 60 at No. 3 in first-class cricket, opening would not be his natural position.
New Zealand have rotated their No. 7 between Daryl Mitchell and Mitchell Santner this season, depending on conditions, and if they feel able to go into a Test with just four specialist quicks, Conway could play as another batsman.
The early part of the England tour is likely to be a bit of a juggling act for New Zealand. There is the potential for IPL players to arrive at various stages depending on when their teams are knocked out, and then their availability would be based on any quarantine required, although at this stage Stead expects everyone to be available for the second Test. The initial 20-man squad will then be trimmed to 15 for the WTC final.
“It’s an interesting time at the moment because there’s a whole heap of different moving parts. We’ve selected what we think our XI is likely to be – or 12-13 depending on conditions – then looked that we have cover for each of those spots as well,” Stead said of picking the larger squad. “They’ll still be people disappointed to miss the squad and again think that’s the great thing about the depth we are showing at the moment.”
The final round of the Plunket Shield takes place this weekend with some New Zealand players involved then those on contract will have two or three weeks off before a series of training camps are arranged ahead of the England trip with the squad due to depart mid-May.
Andrew McGlashan is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo