Educated at Westminster, Bowen was emergency commissioned in April 1942 into the Indian Army. He spent many years in Egypt, Sudan and India before returning to England in 1951 and joining the Royal Engineers as a Captain, working at the War Office and ultimately being promoted to the rank of Major. He later worked for the Joint Intelligence Bureau, part of Britain's military intelligence establishment.
He became involved in cricket research and history in 1958 and, in 1963, he founded the magazine The Cricket Quarterly which ran until 1970. He is best known for his book Cricket: A History of its Growth and Development throughout the World which has been described as "indispensable" but also as "spikily controversial and vigorously wide-ranging". In John Arlott's review of the book for Wisden, he commented that it was "unique in my experience as a major work on cricket written from a wide view, in disapproval of the game's establishment and in expectation of the demise of the first-class game".
An eccentric and difficult man – "Bowen never made an influential friend he couldn’t turn into an avowed adversary" – Bowen amputated his perfectly healthy right leg below the knee in September 1968. In 1974 he married a widow, Anne Valerie Jodelko, who had two visually-impaired sons. He died four years later, aged 62.
- London Gazette 3 July 1942
- The Cricketer 1978 – obituary.
- Jackson, Russell (22 July 2017). "Cricket Historian, Writer, Surgeon, Spy: The Mad World of Major Rowland Bowen". The Guardian. Retrieved 26 October 2019.
- Rowland Bowen, Cricket: A History of its Growth and Development, Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1970
- Eric Midwinter, W G Grace: His Life and Times, George Allen and Unwin, 1981.
- Wisden Cricketer's Almanack 1971.