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Chad Bowes: 'The dream of playing international cricket is in my blood'

"Just the badge has changed," says the former South Africa Under-19 captain who is set to make his debut for New Zealand

Deivarayan Muthu
In 2012, Chad Bowes captained the South Africa Under-19 team, which included the likes of Quinton de Kock and Theunis de Bruyn, to a third-place finish in the World Cup, beating New Zealand by eight wickets. More than a decade later, Bowes is set to make his international debut for New Zealand in the first ODI against Sri Lanka at Eden Park on Saturday.
Along with Devon Conway, Bowes was among the most talented schoolboy cricketers back in the day in South Africa. They would often be pitted against each other in age-group cricket in South Africa and, as fate would have it, their career paths crossed again in New Zealand. Much like Conway, Bowes couldn't quite make much of an impression in fairly limited opportunities in top-tier domestic cricket and his dreams of playing international cricket for South Africa hit a snag.
That's when Bowes decided to leave his family - and comfort zone - behind in South Africa and pursue a cricketing career in New Zealand. Three years after leading South Africa in the 2012 Under-19 World Cup, he arrived in Christchurch on his own and with some help from Stephen Fleming, he joined the Sydenham cricket club and began building his new career and life in New Zealand.
With Conway now with Fleming at Chennai Super Kings for IPL 2023 in India, Bowes has been lined up to open the batting for New Zealand in the absence of Conway. Who woulda thunk it?
"Probably not that script that I thought I was going to write for my career, but it has been a hell of a journey from South Africa to New Zealand," Bowes tells ESPNcricinfo. "Lots of tough and challenging periods and a lot of highs along the way as well. Obviously, the big decision to move countries and create a new life from scratch is the foundation of my last six-seven years of my career. So, a lot of learning has taken place - not just on the field, but in life in general.
"I've come over here with my wife Chloe and we just had a baby girl here who has a New Zealand passport. But we're still waiting for one for ourselves (laughs). But it has been an incredible journey - obviously one that was unexpected, but incredibly valuable in terms of me learning about myself and about the world and just about what it takes to actually thrive and not just survive in different kinds of environments. So, it has been a learning curve that will carry on going. The dream of playing international cricket has been in my blood for 20 years and it still remains in my blood. The only difference is that the badge has changed."
Being away from family in a new country invited a whole lot of challenges, but New Zealand's overall landscape and cricketing landscape pushed Bowes to keep pursuing his dream of becoming a Black Cap. Bowes has had to deal with multiple concussions after suffering blows on his head, on the field, and mental-health struggles off it along the way, but he refuses to give up.
"I felt there was a window period in my mid-20s there where I could shift my career path and my life path, so it wasn't purely based on cricket, but more of a holistic decision of where is our future and where do we want that to be - not just for me, but for my family, children and the rest of our lives. So, from a career standpoint, New Zealand had the kind of environment that I wanted to pursue from a professional point of view and from a life point of view, and it had enough for us to raise a family and have opportunities for us and our children.
"Obviously, a very emotional choice because my parents and family and Chloe's parents and family remain behind. So that took a while to digest and made it incredibly tough and it's still been tough since that day. The emotions come and go. Covid-19 resulted in that emotion being more intense - not being able to connect with family for so long. There have certainly been moments where I felt the challenges have been overwhelming and we've questioned if this is the right choice for us. But every time we fall back on the answer of this is the right thing, we've found a way to manage ourselves and manage our emotions."
"I think I've gained a lot of clarity over the years on my method of scoring runs and how I want to play, especially as an opener"
Chad Bowes
Bowes has been a consistently high-performing batter for Canterbury in the recent past, but this season, in particular, he has found a higher gear. In the 20-over Super Smash, where Canterbury finished runners-up to Northern Districts, Bowes repeatedly gave his side rapid starts. His powerplay strike rate of 154.48 was the best among all batters who had faced at least 50 balls in the tournament during the first six overs. In all, Bowes rattled off 241 of his 359 runs in the powerplay off just 156 balls. He then put Canterbury in the 50-over Ford Trophy final as well, with 126 off 108 balls against Otago, and Bazball'd his way to another hundred against the same opposition in the first session of a four-day Plunket Shield game.
"I think I've gained a lot of clarity over the years on my method of scoring runs and how I want to play, especially as an opener, and that's endorsed by my coach [Peter Fulton] and my team-mates, so I guess I've had a few years to develop my method and my style of play and my attacking options," Bowes says. "I've found a space where I'm confident in my abilities and my method to score from that attacking mindset and with a freedom of mind to go out there and put pressure on the opposition, knowing that it's not going to come off every time, but if it does come off, then my team is going to be in a strong position and that's the role that I'm having to take on.
"The formats are obviously different, but the principle for me remains the same - if I can get my team off to a good start and set a platform, then it sets up the rest of the line-up for success and if I happen to carry on through the innings, it's kind of a bonus."
Bowes is usually strong against pace, and he has now added another string to his bow by fine-tuning his batting against spin on a New Zealand A tour to India last year. The lessons learned during that tour could potentially come in handy against Sri Lanka's premier spinners Wanindu Hasaranga and Maheesh Theekshana.
"It was my first A tour, and it was obviously a privilege to represent New Zealand in that capacity," Bowes recalls. "It was just a great cricket and life experience. India is a unique country - both on and off the field. So, that was eye-opening and a really good challenge, particularly on the field when it came to testing my skills against those bowlers over there who are obviously very high-class in their conditions.
"From a personal point of view, I probably didn't get the result that I'd have hoped for and as a collective, we were put under the pump quite a bit, but it was a great experience. Obviously, Rob Walter was our coach there and he was great in keeping the guys together and just having a collective buy-in around why we are there and the privilege to be in the position that we were."
Bowes has had greater exposure outside of New Zealand, having played four seasons of league cricket in the UK and having had a taste of Minor League Cricket in the USA.
After having travelled all around the world, Bowes is finally on the verge of playing international cricket for New Zealand in New Zealand, a place he now calls home. But Bowes understands that there is life outside of cricket as well. Recently, he set up his own coffee business, 'The Conscious Coffee Project.'
His tagline is 'Your mindful moment in a cup' and that extends to the cricket field too. "There is no place on earth that I'm more mindful or present than when I'm about to face a bowler chucking a ball down at 140kph," Bowes says. "For me, it's something where I become completely immersed in the moment and it's something I try and add to the rest of my life because it's not only beneficial for my mental well-being but also for the people around me."

Deivarayan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo