Wednesday, May 26, 2010
The rare art of bowling left arm chinaman
If we look at the history of test cricket, it can be said that there have been some outstanding spin bowlers, who have played for their respective teams. One can think of great off spinners, slow left arm orthodox spinners or even for the matter leg spinners, but there haven’t been too many, who have taken up the art of bowling left arm chinaman.It is quite surprising that even bowling leg spin has been popular, but not the left arm chinaman variety. It maybe due to the fact that one has to use the wrist to bowl it, but the same can be said about leg spin as one has to use the wrist to bowl it as well. Anyway, whatever maybe the reason the simple fact is, there haven’t been too many, who have taken up the art of bowling left arm chinaman. It is also interesting to see that subcontinent, which has seen many great spinners over the past, hasn’t produced even decent left arm chinaman bowlers, but on the other hand, Aussies have produced some fine chinaman bowlers. It maybe due to the fact that wickets in Australia are hard and bouncy and that factor encourages youngsters, who aspire to become spinners to take up either leg spin, or chinaman as it is hard for a finger spinner to bowl on wickets that doesn’t turn much, but a wrist spinner would likely extract more turn and can use the bounce the Australian wickets can offer to good effect. So, in this article let us look at the rare art of bowling left arm unorthodox spin, or left arm chinaman.
A left arm chinaman bowler uses his wrists to spin the ball from off to leg, or he can also have a googly that turns away from the right-handed batsman. As expected, the ball will turn sharply as a left arm chinaman bowler uses his wrists, but it is not easy to control the flight and direction as bowling with a wrist action can never be easy.
If we think about left arm chinaman bowling, questions like who was the first to try this rare art and how did the word chinaman came into existence can surely arise. To answer it, one may have to go as far back as 1890’s when it is said that South African all rounder, Llelyllen bowled a bit of left arm unorthodox spin. Llelyllen also bowled medium pace, but it looks like he was the first cricketer who bowled left arm unorthodox spin. Many people though, say that Achong was the first one to bowl left arm unorthodox spin.
As far as the word chinaman being used instead of unorthodox spin is concerned, one can say that there is a very interesting story behind it. It is said that Ellis Achong or more popularly known as Puss Achong, the first cricketer of Chinese origin to play test cricket was bowling in a test match at Manchester in England in 1933 and was able to get Walter Robbins stumped by the wicketkeeper Barrow, but as Robbins walked back to pavilion, Achong said to the umpire: "Fancy being done by a bloody chinaman” So, one can say the art of bowling left arm unorthodox spin came to be known as chinaman thanks to Achong!
Now, let us look at some of the other fine exponents of left arm chinaman bowling.
1)Fleetwood Smith- He is popularly known as Chuck Fleetwood Smith. Smith played for Australia during the mid 1930’s. He could bowl both the chinaman and the wrong un. Fleetwood Smith could only play 10 times for Australia and that was on expected lines as he had to battle for a test spot with such legendary names like O’Reilly and Grimmett, but he had his fair share of success, especially in 36/37 when he took 10 wickets for 239 runs at Melbourne against England to help Australia make a come back in a series in which they were 2-0 down. Actually, he was dropped for the first two tests. He is unfairly known for giving away as many as 298 runs in 73 overs against England at Oval, when Hutton took Australia’s attack to the task by scoring 364 and that incidentally was the highest individual score by any batsman at that time. It was also the last time he played for Australia, but his record of 597 first class wickets at 22.64 shows that if legendary names like O’Reilly and Grimmet hadn’t played during his time, he could have been a fine bowler for Australia.
2)Johnny Wardle- During the 50’s, Wardle was a key member of the England team. He didn’t had it easy, as the side had a strong bowling attack what with the likes of Statham, Tyson, Bailey and Trueman battling for the pace bowling slots and Laker, Lock and Wardle as the spinners. It was a bit unfortunate for Wardle that he had to battle with Surrey’s chief wicket-taker Tony Lock for a place in the England’s side yet, Wardle carved a niche for himself by taking 102 wickets at just 20.39. He mainly bowled slow left arm orthodox spin at home, but used the chinaman variety when playing away from home and he could also bowl the wrong un. His main success came against Pakistan in 1954 as he took 20 wickets at just 8.8 and was devastating in South Africa too in 56/57 when he took 26 wickets at 13.8. He also played a key part in England’s successful tour of Australia in 54/55, especially at Sydney when he took 8 wickets in the match. It was a tour in which England relied heavily on the fearsome pace of Tyson and the accuracy of Statham and Bailey, but Wardle too played his part by taking 10 wickets at just 22.9. The Yorkshireman ended his career with no less than 1846 first class wickets and that is indeed a staggering achievement!
3) Sir Garfield Sobers- Sobers was more known for his exceptional batting and aggressive quick bowling, but he could also bowl left arm orthodox spin and the chinaman variety and that is why he is rightly regarded as the greatest all rounder of all time as he was outstanding at so many aspects of the game. He started his career by bowling slow left arm orthodox, but later became good at bowling even left arm chinaman and quickish medium pace. A true cricketing genius.
4) Lindsay Kline- He played for Australia in the mid 50’s and early 60’s. Kline played only 13 tests for Australia and most of them when playing away from home. It was a time when they had Richie Benaund in the side and as expected, he got limited opportunities, but he made his mark by taking a hat-trick against South Africa in 57/58. Kline was also occasionally known for his resolute batting as he played for almost 100 minutes at Adelaide to help Australia to draw the match against the Calypso kings, the Caribbean team in 60/61.
5) Inshan Ali- The slightly built Trinidadian played for the Caribbean team in the 70’s. He didn’t had much success when he played test cricket though, he did take a 5 wicket haul against New Zealand in 71/72, but was a useful bowler in first class cricket as he took 328 wickets for Trinidad.
6)Paul Adams- Adams was known for his unique action which came to known as a frog in a bender. He was first spotted by the former South African all rounder Barlow and made his debut in test cricket at the tender age of just 18. As he had a very unique action, many batsmen just got flummoxed by it at the beginning of his career. It can be seen by the fact that he took 8 wickets in just 2 tests against England in 95/96 and played a key part in helping South Africa to defeat England at Cape town as South Africa won the series 1-0. He also was successful in India as he took a 6 wicket haul at Kanpur by flummoxing the Indian batsmen again with his unique action as even the likes of Azhar, Tendulkar and Dravid succumbed to his left arm chinaman bowling in the first innings, but Azhar’s heroics with the bat in the second innings and a wearing pitch meant that his efforts went in vain as South Africa were crushed by 280 runs. As the years went by, the batsmen started to get adjusted to his action as his mystery was unraveled. The critics thought that he didn’t had much variety as he lacked a googly. The Aussies played him easily in 97/98 and former players like Bob Simpson also thought that the then captain of South Africa, Cronje set negative fields for Adams. He slowly faded way from the international scene and retired from first class cricket in 2008. His record of 134 wickets at 32.87 though, does show that he did reasonably well for South Africa.
7)Bevan- Micheal Bevan was always known for his ability to win matches for Australia as a batsman from hopeless situations in one day cricket, but people do forget that he was also a useful left arm chinaman bowler. He showed his class as a chinaman bowler in South Africa in 96/97. Most knowledgeable fans that I have discussed with, or former players like Simpson, Ian Chappell, and Shane Warne himself have said that South African batsmen are good against finger spin, but do tend to struggle against wrist spin. It was proved right at least at Johannesburg in the first test in 96/97 when both Bevan and Warne combined together to help Australia crush South Africa by an innings and 196 runs. In the second innings, Shane Warne with his magical leg spin bowling bamboozled the top order and Bevan with his quickish left arm chinaman bowling ripped through the South African lower order as South African batsmen fell like nine pins. It was a good series for Bevan as he took 9 wickets at just 19.55. He subsequently struggled in English conditions as a chinaman bowler and Bevan as a batsman was always suspect against sustained short pitch bowling because of which he only played in 18 tests. His record of 29 wickets at 24.24 though, does show that he was a useful chinaman bowler.
8)Brad Hogg- He played for Australia in the late 90’s and the early part of the new millennium. Hogg couldn’t play many tests as Australia had the legendary Shane Warne and Macgill in the side. I would also like to add Bevan as Bevan was selected to play for Australia in tests as he could also bowl left arm chinaman, but Hogg carved a niche for himself in the shorter version of the game. He took 156 wickets at just 26.84 in one-day cricket. He made his test debut way back in 96/97 at Delhi in India, but he played that test only because Shane Warne was out with a finger injury and as soon as he came back into the team, he found himself in the wilderness, but Hogg did well for his state, Western Australia and finally came back into the Australian one-day set up in 2002/03. I still remember the match at Hobart against England when Hogg was struggling to get wickets and was getting smashed around by both the innovative Knight and the power hitter Trescothick, but once both were gone, he took 3 important wickets as he bamboozled the opposition with his googly to help Australia win by a narrow margin of just 7 runs. He also became the main one day spinner for the world cup in 2003 as Shane Warne failed a drug test. He surely had a great time in that tournament as he took 13 wickets at just 24.76 as he helped Australia to retain the world cup. The subsequent retirement of Warne from one-day cricket meant that he became the main one day spinner for Australia. In the 07 world cup too he was successful as he took 8 wickets at 29.5 as again Australia were successful in retaining the world cup. I would always remember the deadly googly that he bowled to get Freddie Flintoff of England stumped in a crucial super 8’s match in that tournament. It also was the time when Warne retired from test cricket and Macgill too was on the decline as a test spinner which paved the way for Hogg to play test cricket, but he was already 36 and was able to appear in just 7 tests for Australia. He was also a useful lower order batsman for Australia.
In recent times, there haven’t been many chinaman bowlers though, both Mahmood of West Indies and Casson of Australia have shown some promise, but at present both are in the wilderness. Mahmood in the recently concluded champions league bowled some useful spells. He is not a big turner of the ball though, seems to have good control and Casson too showed a bit of promise in the Caribbean in 2008, but at present, he is battling to get into even his state side, the New South Wales. Other than those two, there is Katich who was encouraged to take up the art of bowling left arm chinaman by none other the former Australian captain Steve Waugh himself. Katich does have a 5 wicket haul against Zimbabwe to his credit, but it is fair to say that he is very much a part-time spin bowler.
Finally, one can say that with the advent of T/20 cricket, flat wickets and bigger bats being used, the art of bowling left arm chinaman would be fully extinct in a few years time. I sincerely hope it doesn’t happen as watching a left arm chinaman bowler bamboozling the best of batsmen with turn and bounce has always been a connoisseur's delight.