New Zealand batter Mark Chapman returns to scene of historic century as he faces UAE

Left-hander back with Black Caps for T20 international series after earlier heroics for Hong Kong

New Zealand's Mark Chapman trains ahead of the T20 series between the UAE and New Zealand at the ICC Academy, Dubai. Chris Whiteoak / The National
Powered by automated translation

It is tempting to suggest the UAE will be confronted with a familiar face when Mark Chapman steps out to bat for New Zealand in the T20 international series in Dubai this week.

Eight years ago, just across the Dubai Sports City precinct at the ICC Academy, the left-hander became the 10th player in history to score a century on one-day international debut.

To say his unbeaten, 116-ball innings of 124 that day will be seared into the minds of the UAE bowlers would be misleading, though.

Not one player from that UAE side back in 2015 is still part of the national team, save for Ahmed Raza, who is now their assistant coach.

Much has changed for Chapman, too. Now he wears the black of New Zealand. Back then, it was the red of Hong Kong.

“I have fond memories of Dubai, the UAE, and the different grounds here, but that does feel like a wee while ago now,” Chapman said, ahead of Thursday’s opening T20I in Dubai.

His debut exploits against the UAE were all the more impressive given the lead in to it. A day earlier he had been in Auckland, finishing up his final exam of the term in engineering studies at Auckland University.

“I went straight to the airport, landed in Dubai and went straight to the ground,” Chapman, 29, said.

“It was a pretty quick turnaround. We certainly wouldn’t do that these days playing international cricket, and I wouldn’t recommend it. It was a whirlwind 48 hours.”

Although technically an ODI debut, Chapman was already well known to the UAE, as well as most other sides beyond the Test sphere, back in 2015.

He had been part of Hong Kong’s side at the T20 World Cup a year earlier, and played plenty of limited-overs internationals, too – even if they were not officially deemed ODIs.

“It just so happened that we had a good crop of cricketers in Hong Kong at the time that all grew up together,” he said.

“We graduated to the men’s team, had a few good years playing in T20 World Cups, which was pretty cool.

“Up until that point we had only been playing List A class games because we didn’t have one-day status.

“Having played a number of games for Hong Kong it was strange making my one-day international debut then, but it was an exciting time.

“The guys certainly loved playing full one-day internationals. It was a special time.”

New Zealand train for UAE T20 series

Born and raised in Hong Kong, where his parents were working at the time, Chapman first took to cricket when he went along to watch his dad playing weekend games.

“My dad played cricket, and I remember as a three or four-year-old going along to watch him playing club cricket,” he said.

“Growing up in Hong Kong I played a number of different sports. I tried to play as many as I could – cricket, rugby, hockey, football and tennis – all in one season.

“We would fit them all into one season, the winter, because summer was too hot. I took to cricket, and I always supported New Zealand growing up because my dad is a Kiwi.

“I followed the Black Caps closely as a youngster. I admired the likes of Stephen Fleming and Daniel Vettori.”

As a stylish left-hander, the similarities to his hero Fleming are clear. Having attended secondary school in Auckland and played for the city’s age-group teams, switching to the New Zealand set-up from that of Hong Kong was not a complete culture shock.

“The difficult decision was more around transitioning into being a full-time professional cricketer in New Zealand," he added.

“Pursuing that path meant having to give away some of the Hong Kong stuff. In my earlier days I had been doing it alongside playing club cricket in Auckland.

“In 2016 I decided to give it a good crack playing for Auckland, and to do my best to put my hand up to be selected for the Black Caps.”

Now he is back in Dubai for another bilateral international series against the UAE, although there is another major difference from that series with Hong Kong back in 2015.

Those matches were played in November, and they were day games. Chapman is grateful that the hours are not the same this time around.

“[The heat] is something we have talked about,” he said.

“Half of the team have been playing around the world in various different tournaments, and half have come from a New Zealand winter where we have been training indoors in jumpers and a beanie.

“It has been a bit of a shock to the system to acclimatise to the conditions. We are fully aware cricket isn’t usually played at this time of the year.

“There is not much we can do to change that so we are just doing everything we can in terms of hydration and nutrition, and being aware of the impact of the heat.”

Updated: August 17, 2023, 6:30 AM