Pic: Twitter (@ESPNcricinfo)

Lording at Lord’s; Conway comes of age

Devon Conway has stroked his way to a fantastic debut Test century at Lord’s, any batsman’s ultimate dream. On the way to accomplishing this, Conway has left behind some of the former veterans of the game.

For a batsman, a century on debut is a great feeling. And a century on debut at Lord’s is an unbelievable feeling. Referred to widely as the ‘home of cricket’, Lord’s is the mecca of international and English domestic cricket, and to make the honours boards at Lord’s is a dream come true for any cricketer. Situated in North West London, Lord’s is the most famous cricket ground in the world, and the feeling of tasting success at Lord’s is the pinnacle of satisfaction. The most recent player to undergo this tsunami of emotions is Devon Conway, who became the first New Zealander to smash a century on debut at Lord’s in the ongoing Test against England. In addition to this, Conway has also broken the record for the highest Test score on debut at Lord’s, previously held by India’s Sourav Ganguly. There have been 111 occasions of centuries being hit on Test debut, out of which only six have been at Lord’s, and Conway becomes the first player to do so since Matt Prior back in 2007.

The other players on the esteemed list are Englishmen John Hampshire and Andrew Strauss, along with Aussie Harry Graham and Sourav Ganguly. The feeling of raising the bat to the iconic Lord’s dressing room is a treasured memory for all who undergo it. However, crossing the three figure mark at Lord’s in international Test cricket is no piece of cake, as even some of the biggest names in world cricket have not been able to achieve the feat. The biggest and most striking name on this list is that of Sachin Tendulkar, who, let alone a hundred, doesn’t even have a Test fifty at the ground, his highest being 37. Out of a ridiculous 51 Test centuries and 68 fifties, none have been made at the home of cricket. He did, however, make a century for the Rest of the World XI against the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) in 1998, but international success at Lord’s has eluded Tendulkar.

Another equally shocking member of this list is perhaps the greatest opener in Test history, Sunil Gavaskar. Like Tendulkar, Gavaskar was never able to register a Test hundred at the ground, with a high score of 59. His lone century at Lord’s came for the Rest of the World XI against MCC in 1987, in his final first-class game. Ricky Ponting, Brian Lara, Jacques Kallis and Matthew Hayden, among others, are some of the other former greats who have never had the honour to receive a standing ovation at Lord’s. The historic honours boards at Lord’s do contain some surprises as well. Former Indian all-rounder Ajit Agarkar smashed 109* at Lord’s in 2002, although in a losing cause. That is also Agarkar’s only century in international cricket. What Sachin Tendulkar couldn’t do in between 51 centuries, Agarkar did with his first one. An even bigger thunderbolt is that English fast bowler Stuart Broad has a place on the honours boards, when he made 169 against Pakistan in 2010. Tendulkar would surely not be too pleased. Cricket indeed is a game full of surprises.

There have been 239 instances of the triple figure mark being crossed at Lord’s, Graham Gooch and Michael Vaughan hold the record for most Test centuries at Lord’s, with six each. The record for most Lord’s Test hundreds by an overseas cricketer is in the hands of former Indian batting maestro Dilip Vengsarkar, who has smoked three centuries at the ground. Among the current crop of batsmen, the one big name who has had an unproductive run at Lord’s is Virat Kohli. Kohli has managed only 65 runs across four innings at the venue, making him the only one from the ‘fab four’ to not have a hundred at the ground. Talking about the other members of the fab four, Kiwi Kane Williamson scored 132 at Lord’s in 2015, Aussie Steve Smith cracked 215, also in 2015, while English captain Joe Root has three centuries at the venue. Scoring big runs at the home of cricket has been tough for outsiders, with Englishmen finding it comparatively easy, which signifies the importance and magnitude of the achievement of an overseas batsman.

The highest score at the venue is that of Graham Gooch, who pummeled India en route to a magnificent 333 in 1990. The highest score by an overseas batsman is by former South African captain Graeme Smith, who piled up 259 against England in 2003. It is well known that batting in English conditions is a testing task for batsmen due to the increased swing and pace they have to deal with. Lord’s exacerbates the situation for batsmen with its sloping nature. Unlike most cricket grounds that run level from inch to inch, Lord’s has a slope that runs downward from the north end to the south end. This uncanny characteristic makes life easier for the bowlers. Because of the slope, pacers bowling from the Nursery End find it naturally easy to swerve the ball away from the right handed batsman, and if a bowler does learn the art of nipping the ball other way from the same end, the batsman is in that much more trouble. From the Pavilion End, the natural tendency of the ball would be to cut back into the right handed batsman, making this end the ideal preference for swing bowlers, like James Anderson.

With the natural arch of the ball falling towards the batsmen, coupled with a bowler’s ability to generate extra swing, the ball creates a banana on the pitch before sending the batsman’s off stump for a jog. Left handed batsmen face the same issues at different ends as compared to the righties. It takes the batsman longer than usual to get accustomed to the unconventional dynamics of the ground, and it is during that first hour of uncertainty that Jimmy Anderson cleans up most batsmen. Once past that phase, scoring becomes relatively easy, but the England weather has the batsman guessing at all times.

Keeping all these hurdles in mind, for a batsman to score heavily on his first outing at Lord’s is a commendable task, and Devon Conway has ticked all the boxes so far in his innings. Along with the already established Tom Latham at the top of the order, Conway could spell worry for India when time comes for the World Test Championship final on 18th June. Conway has done justice to Kane Williamson’s decision of batting first and has put the team in a solid position. Devon Conway looks like one who could bring back the finesse of former Kiwi left handed great Stephen Fleming, and with this innings against England, he has announced a strong arrival onto the Test arena.

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