Long march for the Chinamen
The opening Test between South Africa and Australia at the Wanderers
in Johannesburg witnessed two 'Chinamen' operating for either
side - the home team's Paul Adams and Michael
Bevan for the visitors. Both, with their tantalizing deliveries mesmerised the opposition batsmen to a great degree, and in the process became the first ever pair to play against each other in the same Test, and also the first authentic Chinamen bowlers to be seen in action in the last 25 years.
Ellis Achong, a Trinidadian of Chinese decent, is widely regarded
as the originator of the 'Chinaman' - the left-arm off-break
to a right-handed batsman. The first time the delivery was seen was when Achong dismissed Patsy Hendren of the MCC at Port-of-Spain in 1930. The accolade for
the first left-arm wrist spinner should go the South African C.B.
Llewellyn, but the real mystery is why only twelve practitioners of the art have performed
at first-class level prior to the recent emergence of Adams and
Llewellyn was a medium-paced left-arm bowler and, as an
outstanding all-rounder was chosen as Wisden's Cricketer
of the Year 1911. However, like so many who came after him, his
considerable achievements were followed by intense frustration
and Hampshire were extremely disappointed at his loss of form
over the next five seasons before he rediscovered his all-round
skills, taking 133 wickets and scoring 1,110 runs in his final
county season. He toured Australia with South Africa, and played
in the 1912 Triangular tournament but achieved little as a bowler.
Ellis Achong developed mainly as an orthodox slow left-arm bowler
and toured England in 1933, claiming 71 wickets in all matches.
He played again in 1934-35 series against MCC, taking one for 65
in a couple of games by which time, with the dramatic emergence
of Constantine and Martindale, the West Indies were developing
their fast bowling tradition and reliance on pace attacks which
was their main forte in the years to come.
There are ten other players in this category to have ruled the
cricketing world. They are 'Chuck' Fleetwood-Smith,
Jack Walsh and George Tribe of Australia; Johnny Wardle of England,
Sir Garfield Sobers of the West Indies, England's Denis Compton,
Australia's Lindsay Kline, Johnny Martin and David Sincock, and
West Indies' Inshan Ali.
Of these, Fleetwood-Smith was the most successful left-arm wrist
spinner with mastery of the googly. In the decade before the second World War,
he was one of five Australian bowlers to take 200 wickets in Sheffield
Shield cricket and achieved notable success at Test match level.
He concealed his change of spin so well that wicket-keeper Bert
Oldfield needed special practice to learn the secret. Wisden
noted that when he was able to control length, his Chinaman was
"well nigh unplayable".
Sobers, of course, bowled using three different styles. Picked originally
for West Indies as an orthodox left-arm spinner, he first tried
the Chinaman on the unresponsive pitches of India and Pakistan. In
an attack dominated by Wes Hall, Charlie Griffith and Lance Gibbs,
Sobers could provide whatever special skills more required in
the conditions, but as his Test career developed he concentrated
on medium-fast and slow left-arm and gave up wrist-spin in the
Left-arm wrist spin has always been regarded as erratic and uneconomical,
an expensive luxury, delightful to watch but too unpredictable
and unreliable for serious-minded people intent on winning cricket
matches. This could be true of all wrist-spinners, although recently
Shane Warne, Abdul Qadir and Mushtaq Ahmed have developed skills
comparable with the great attacking bowlers of all types in any
era. The difference for left-arm wrist-spinners is that there
have been so few of them and, with rare exceptions, they have
made modest contributions at Test level. Notable initial success
has attracted great interest and public attention followed by
selectorial mistrust, restricted opportunities and, particularly
since the increasing emphasis on one-day game, the predominance
of medium-paced line and length bowling in all forms and at
The overriding problem has been to sustain consistent accuracy
for long spells, and although this has been achieved by them all
at some stages for some periods in their careers, with the notable
exceptions of Fleetwood-Smith and Wardle, no Chinaman bowler has
dominated Test matches and delivered a winning strike-rate. But
besides the inherent difficulties of control and accuracy, opportunities
for wrist-spinners have been restricted by selectors and captains
who've discouraged the more unpredictable and risky from of attack.
Till, that is, Adams first, and Bevan more recently, came along and proved to be the key elements of the bowling attacks of their respective sides...