Within the next couple of days, the word “Chinaman” is bound to be the most Googled word in India. That can be entirely credited to the brilliance of debutant Kuldeep Yadav at Dharamsala in the fourth Test against Australia. The 22-year-old became India’s first ever chinaman bowler to play Test cricket, and on debut, ravaged through the Australian top order.
So, in the very first place, why do we coin a term like “chinaman” for a bowler of Yadav’s classification. First and foremost, chinaman bowlers are those wrist spinners, who bowl with the left-arm. In highly uncomplicated terms, a wrist spinner who bowls with the left-hand and his work operation is there similar as a normal leg spinner, is called a ‘chinaman bowler’. To say it smartly, one can refer to chinaman bowlers as left-arm leg spinners.
These bowlers are a little different to the slow left arm spinners like Ravindra Jadeja, Rangana Herath, Daniel Vettori or Mitchell Santner. While the mentioned individuals rely on their fingers and are more like finger spinners, chinaman bowlers use their wrists to extract turn from the surface. Therefore, it is a common sight to find chinaman spinners extracting more spin from the pitch than an orthodox slow left-arm spinner.
Coming to the origins of chinaman bowlers, one needs to rewind the clock back into the late 19th century. Charlie Llewellyn, a South African all-rounder credited himself of being the actual inventor of left-arm wrist spin, but not all of his claims can be satisfied with that.
From the international cricketing perspective, it was the West Indian Ellis Achong, who stunned everyone with his left-arm wrist spin against England at Old Trafford in 1933. Back then, there were no cricketing jargon to classify different types of bowlers, so a personal aspect of Achong was taken.
The bowler seemed to be extremely unique and un-encountered, so the British press described his bowling action via his “Chinese” ancestry. Therefore, a bowler who bowled left arm wrist spin came to be known as a “chinaman” bowler.
In the modern era, there have been a few noticeable inclusions of chinaman bowlers. The most prominent ones have been South Africa’s Paul Adams and former Australian spinner Brad Hogg. The great Gary Sobers, undoubtedly the greatest all-rounder the game has ever seen, also was a chinaman.
Coming to prominent faces, it was two time World Cup winner Brad Hogg who brought this strata of bowlers in the limelight. Hogg, who became a regular member of Australia’s ODI team after the retirement of Shane Warne in 2003, bamboozled the batsmen with his wrist spin and continues to do so at an age of 45 in franchise based T20 such as the IPL.
One noticeable aspect which makes chinaman bowlers such a rare sight, is that it is profusely difficult to control the movement of the left wrist and that makes chinaman bowling a very tedious job. Nevertheless, we have seen some promising chinaman bowlers so far, and Kuldeep could be another addition to a rare elite list.
Footnote: (Credit – Cricinfo)
The origin of the term “chinaman” is reported to have originated after Achong had Walter Robbins stumped during the Manchester Test of 1933. According to Richie Benaud, as Robbins walked back to pavilion he said to Joe Hardstaff Snr, the umpire: “Fancy being done by a bloody chinaman”.