Mark Chapman takes the road less travelled to go where no man has gone before

Published April 25, 2023
New Zealand’s Mark Chapman (R) celebrates after scoring a century (100 runs) during the fifth and final Twenty20 match between Pakistan and New Zealand at the Rawalpindi Cricket Stadium in Rawalpindi, on Monday. — AFP
New Zealand’s Mark Chapman (R) celebrates after scoring a century (100 runs) during the fifth and final Twenty20 match between Pakistan and New Zealand at the Rawalpindi Cricket Stadium in Rawalpindi, on Monday. — AFP

Mark Sinclair Chapman is quite the fan of the road less travelled. When he walked out to bat for the first time in international cricket, the then 19-year-old found himself trying to guide his Hong Kong team out of a hole against Nepal in their opening World T20 qualifier in March of 2014. The side were 37-3 chasing Nepal’s target of 150. Chapman was dismissed for 13 and Hong Kong were dismissed for 69, eventually finishing bottom of their group as many in that side would have realised they are out of their depths in such rarefied company.

When Chapman walked out into the middle in Rawalpindi for the deciding T20I — now wearing the black of New Zealand — another similarly dramatic rescue was required of him. The visitors were 26-3 chasing 195 to draw the five-match series, but Chapman was now nearly 10 years older, wiser, and much more experienced. Chapman was up against arguably the best bowling attack in the world, but these were favourable batting conditions and he was having the best 10 days of his entire career.

Alongside Daryl Mitchell, Chapman had to pick up the pieces and lay the foundations of an unlikely late heist. When Mitchell was dismissed 15, New Zealand found themselves staring at the brink at 73-4 after 10 overs, requiring 121 in the next 10. Chapman was already motoring along at 33 off 24, showing the glimpses of the knockout counterpunch he was about to land on the visitors after the drinks break.

Babar gave the ball to Faheem and Chapman duly dispatched him for three boundaries off his four deliveries before bringing up his half-century with a reverse-sweep off Shadab Khan in the next over. This was a mini case-study of contrasting forms and fortunes. While Chapman was busy turning everything he touched into gold, the Islamabad all-round duo of Faheem and Shadab saw everything they gripped crumble to dust in this series. 31 runs came in those two overs, signalling a momentum shift that took the game away from Pakistan in front of stunned Pindi eyes. What had appeared to be a mountain kept getting smaller and smaller until Chapman casually skipped over an ant hill to get his side over the line. By the time Faheem prepared to ball the final over, New Zealand required three off six to complete a dramatic and unlikely turnaround not only in the game but also in the series that they levelled 2-2 after being 2-0 down.

Pakistan have arguably the most formidable bowling line-up in the world, with the likes of Zaman Khan and Naseem Shah unable to even get a spot in the side for the decider. But if there is one criticism that can be levied on this attack, then it is that they seem completely unable to wrestle back the initiative from the opposition. This may be a captaincy issue, with Babar Azam’s previous successors Shadab Khan and Misbah-ul-Haq being masters of seizing back control from the opposition. But Babar can only do so much when the likes of Haris Rauf, Shaheen Shah Afridi, Shadab, and now even Ihsanullah, look like completely different bowlers when they have their tails up as compared to when they are under the cosh. To be fair to them, most bowlers in the world struggle to stop the haemorrhaging of runs once the batsmen get going, especially in T20I cricket, but when you’re staking the claim to be the world’s finest then you are judged by higher standards than others around you.

James Neesham was no mere foil for Chapman and feasted on some poor Pakistani bowling, which crumbled under the pressure, to score an unbeaten 45 off 25. The plaudits understandably went to Chapman though for his unbeaten 104 off 57 deliveries. Chapman’s first T20I century was the coup de grâce of an incredible series that saw the left-hander score the most runs by any batsman in a series of five or less matches in T20I history. That Chapman was only dismissed once in the entire series, going unbeaten in the final four games, makes this an even more remarkable achievement and skipper Tom Latham was justified in calling it the one of the best innings they had seen.

Chapman’s exploits have earned him a spot in the ODI squad and on current form he will be quietly confident of performing well enough to make himself the primary candidate to replace Kane Williamson in the likely scenario that the New Zealand captain does not recover for the World Cup later this year. If he does, it would cap a remarkable turnaround for a Hong Kong teenager who had seen his side crumble for 69 against Nepal nearly a decade ago in the World T20 qualifiers. Chapman is living proof that sometimes the road less travelled can lead to some wonderful destinations.


The author is a freelance journalist

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