Before the T20 World Cup in the UAE, Devon Conway
's only experience of visiting the subcontinent was way back in 2005, when he was on a school tour to Sri Lanka. He came into his first World Cup without much game-time, having suffered a finger fracture
in the inaugural Hundred.
Conway expected to slot into the XI as a specialist batter; he did feature in New Zealand's opener against Pakistan
as a pure batter in the middle order. In that fixture in Dubai, Conway leapt to his left from wide long-off and plucked a catch out of thin air to get rid of Mohammad Hafeez. It was Tim Seifert who had instead kept wicket in that match.
Seifert was New Zealand's first-choice T20I wicketkeeper during their 2020-21 home summer, but in order to bring fast bowler Adam Milne into the XI, the team management benched Seifert and handed over the keeping duties to Conway. After pulling off an absolute stunner in the outfield, Conway showed off his reflexes behind the stumps as well. Standing up to legspinner Ish Sodhi in Sharjah
, he snagged a smart catch to dismiss Namibia captain Gerhard Erasmus. Then, standing behind to Milne in Abu Dhabi
in a must-win for New Zealand, he leapt to his right, stuck out his right glove and snaffled a nick from Afghanistan's Mohammad Shahzad on the rebound.
One of New Zealand's biggest strengths this tournament has been their players adapting to new roles on the fly. Cases in point: first Daryl Mitchell
and now Conway.
"So far, touchwood! It has been really good. I really enjoyed it. I do enjoy keeping - it keeps me engaged in the game and you're always in the game," Conway said. "So it's exciting behind the stumps and then sort of today [Sunday, against Afghanistan], it's a bonus standing behind the stumps for 20 overs and getting the opportunity to bat. We really do get a good feel for how the wicket is playing and come up with a plan before you go into bat, which is quite nice.
"But I didn't think I was going to get as much opportunity with the gloves, but the opportunity presented itself and I'm really enjoying it."
So, has Milne's extra pace or the spinners' variety challenged his keeping more?
"Normally, it's quite harder keeping to the spinners," Conway said. "We've got Ish Sodhi who turns it both ways and bowls sliders, we've got Mitch Santner who has got really good control and can turn and slide it on as well. But, I think, I found it quite tricky keeping back to the seamers and felt like the ball was wobbling a fair bit behind the stumps, and yeah, it was a bit of a challenge keeping to the seamers today [Sunday]."
"It was pretty cool to see them and hopefully I can catch up with them at some point in the future."
Conway on seeing his parents in the stands during the match against Afghanistan
Former wicketkeeper and New Zealand's current batting coach Luke Ronchi
has had a hand in Conway's progress. Conway had also worked with Ronchi at the Wellington Firebirds nets when he was on the road to recovery from the injury.
"Working with Ronchs has been awesome," Conway said. "He's got a lot of experience on these surfaces and knows these wickets better than anyone here. So, good to get some of that knowledge from him and talk different game-plans. I've worked quite a lot with Ronchs over the last couple of years.
"So, he knows my batting and what needs for me to get to my best as a player. I just continue to have those conversations with Ronchs and we just try to work out a plan, and hopefully that pays off at the end of the day."
After making 27 off 24 balls against Pakistan, Conway didn't contribute much with the bat in the next three games. However, on Sunday, his smarts on a fairly true pitch were central to New Zealand acing a chase of 125 against Afghanistan at the Sheikh Zayed Stadium. He threw both Rashid Khan and Mohammad Nabi, in particular, off their lines and lengths with a variety of sweeps, including the reverse-hit. All told, he took 31 off 19 balls from the spinners.
"The key to facing those sorts of bowlers is they are going to turn it both ways, so to combat that I just sort of thought we'd play with horizontal bats, using the sweep and reverse-sweep was my go-to [shot]," Conway said of his game plan against spin. "They were bowling quite quick into the wicket, so I thought I could sort of use that pace to my advantage. But that's the things we talk about as a bowling collective - how we are going to attack certain bowlers and formulate a game-plan for that and try and execute it as we as we can in the game."
His captain, Kane Williamson, backed him up with an unbeaten 40. Conway has also had regular support from the stands, with Denton and Sandy, his South Africa-based parents, taking a month off to watch their son in action across the three venues in the UAE.
New Zealand's support crew is set to double up for the semi-finals as Mitchell's father John, the former All Black player and coach, is preparing to fly in from the UK.
"It's been special to see my family - my parents - over the last few games coming to watch, and I haven't seen them in a long time," Conway said. "So just to sort of see them from a distance has been pretty cool, and yeah it was just nice to contribute to the team's success today and have them there in the stands watching and supporting us all the way. So, it was pretty cool to see them and hopefully I can catch up with them at some point in the future."
Deivarayan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo