Friday, 7 October 2011

Can you tell your left from your right? Part V of V

The Chinaman

So, we come to the end of our journey with the ball that inspired it. And this final article throws up a number of questions. What is a 'Chinaman'? Who bowls it? Why are are you telling me this?

(A Chinaman isn't this, but that is very funny, and cricket related, so you should take a look.)

'Puss' Achong was a West Indian bowler of Chinese extraction whose unremarkable career would have passed without much comment, were it not for the fact that one day he threw in an unexpected delivery to English batsman (and here I confess to resorting to Wikipedia) Walter Robins. Robins was expecting SLA (which was Achong's stock delivery) but Achong (who must have been practised this sly delivery in the nets) bowled one out of the back of his hand, in the same manner as a leg spin bowler. Since he was a left-arm bowler, the ball turned in the opposite direction to the leg break, clean bowling a flummoxed Robins. Legend suggests that looking back at his shattered stumps he uttered the immortal phrase, "Fancy being out to a bloody Chinaman!" And the sobriquet stuck.

And in essence, that's it. The Chinaman is the mirror image of the leg break. It's left arm wrist spin and it turns from off to leg, rather than leg to off (like a conventional leg break).

So who bowls it? Well, the answer is, not many people. Like Achong, Johnny Wardle (yet another brilliant Yorkshire bowler) was an SLA who opted to throw in the occasional Chinaman to bewitch his opponent. But Wardle's Test career was nothing like Achong's. Indeed, it was nothing short of brilliant. It is still a mystery to me how such a talented bowler could only have played only 28 Tests (even he was up against Laker and Lock for a spot in the team) but in those 28 he took 102 wickets at an average of only 20.39 runs per wicket. That's better than Laker, Murali, Warne and, pretty much, everyone. Wardle has a decent claim to being the best post-war spinner though SLA (and yet another Yorkshireman!) Bobby Peel's 101 wickets at 16.98 will take some beating!

In more recent times, Paul Adams (whose bowling action has been likened to a 'frog in a blender') and Brad Hogg have had modest success bowling Chinaman. (Here's are great video of Hogg bowling, which includes 'conventional' Chinaman, more than one wrong 'un (googly - note how the batsmen often fail to spot, or 'pick' the googly) and flipper). Brilliant one day batsman Michael Bevan was known to toss in the occasional over of Chinaman (men?).

Why so few? Well, like leg spin, Chinaman is hard to master. Of course, It's useful to have a googly (and despite unpopular misconception, a Chinaman's googly is called just that - a 'googly'. The Chinaman is the stock ball - the mirror image of a leg break) but the disadvantage of a stock ball that breaks towards the (right handed) batsman appears to have led the majority of left-arm spinners to opt for orthodox SLA, rather than wrist spin.

I can think of one other Chinaman bowler. And fittingly for the last word in this article and this entire series, he was the greatest cricket player of all time. Originally picked primarily as an SLA bowler, he developed into one of the greatest batsmen the world had ever seen, a top notch fielder, a left arm fast bowler of prodigious talent, and he developed a Chinaman as well. He was the great Sir Garry Sobers, and as Garry Sobers cannot be surpassed as a cricketer, it is here that we end this series.

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