Conway reveals Dhoni's helping hand in success against spinners
"He said to me, 'I think the guys are going to try to bowl fuller to you tonight, so come out and hit them straight,'"
Sunday's partnership between Devon Conway and Ruturaj Gaikwad - their third straight fifty-plus stand, two of which have been over hundred - was a perfect example of complementing each other.
If Gaikwad jumped out of the crease and smacked a huge six to the first ball Anrich Nortje bowled, Conway took care of the major spin threat by skipping down Axar Patel for two sixes in his first over and Kuldeep Yadav for two sixes and a four in his first. In all, Conway took 54 runs off 20 balls of spin, and Gaikwad struck at 200 against Nortje and Shardul Thakur.
It is interesting because only last year Gaikwad was the spin hitter and Faf du Plessis the pace hitter. This year, Gaikwad has shown great affinity for high pace as seen against Umran Malik too. It is no surprise that Conway is doing well against spin: he averages 77.78 against spin and strikes at 141.61 since 2018. So he is not just a power hitter against spin but also someone who does it as a relatively low risk.
What made Conway so difficult for the spinners was that he not only swept and reverse-swept but also charged at them to hit them down the ground. The commentators on air said such batters are the most difficult to bowl to for a spinner.
In all, Conway stepped down to four balls from the spinners, and hit them all for sixes. Murali Kartik, a former spinner himself, told Conway at the post-match presentation how hard it is to bowl to batters who can do both. Conway revealed stepping down is not one of his bigger strengths, and that captain MS Dhoni had a role to play in that shot.
"I have got to give credit to MS tonight," Conway told Star Sports. "In the last game I swept quite a lot, and I unfortunately got out playing the sweep. And he said to me, 'I think the guys are going to try to bowl fuller to you tonight. So maybe come out and try to hit them straight.' So he sort of gave me the guidelines to try to execute that. That's what I tried to do."
Till this match, Conway had stepped out only 31 times in 1049 balls of spin that he had faced in T20 cricket. The results were good in a strike rate of 222.58 but he had also got out four times. The sweep has been more of a percentage shot: he used it three times more frequently for about three times the average but at a lower strike rate of 155.55. In this game, though, he consciously used stepping out as a strategy, and his instinct to pick the length early and play spin well took over.
What will Dhoni's experience tell Conway now that spinners might start planning for the advance down the wicket too?
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo