From S.Giridhar and V.J. Raghunath, India
We set off to do a story on offspinners and left-arm spinners - similar to what we had done some months back on legspinners. We had hoped that our favourite mystery and left-arm chinaman bowlers will find adequate space. To our dismay we found that many of the names that rolled deliciously off our tongues just did not have enough wickets to qualify under stodgy criteria such as minimum number of wickets, etc. So we said, to hell with all that - let us just enjoy ourselves writing about our favourite chinaman and mystery bowlers - the non-conformists, conjurors and sleight-of-hand purveyors.
The left-arm chinaman is a mirror image of the right-arm leg break - bowled by turning the wrist so that the ball turns the opposite way to left-arm finger spin. When bowled back of the hand, it becomes the googly, it turns the other way. We identified 10 chinaman bowlers as we trawled through the history of the game. Even if you were to add up all the wickets taken by the chinaman bowlers it would be less than a combined tally of Bedi
. There are 45 left-arm spinners who have more than 40 wickets each but just four chinaman bowlers who meet this criterion. The strike-rate of the chinaman bowler is superior (a wicket every 70 balls as compared to 79 for the orthodox left-arm); the bowling average is similar, 31.6 as compared to 31.2. The difference is that while the 45 left-arm spinners have taken over 4800 wickets in 1605 matches, the 10 chinaman bowlers have played only 184 matches to take 427 wickets.
Old timers had the great fortune to see the peerless Garry Sobers
bowl a lot of this stuff. In fact they were so fortunate that they saw that genius bowl left-arm fast, slow orthodox and chinaman all on the same afternoon. His 235 test wickets are a wonderful mix of all three. In the fifties, Johnny Wardle
played for England. A maverick - and that sat badly in England - he bowled orthodox finger spin in England, but served up chinaman and googlies abroad. He bowled the way his heart dictated and he bowled really well - 28 Tests, 102 wickets at a strike rate of 65 balls per wicket. His average of 20.39 is the best for any post-war spinner
who has over 100 wickets. In our statistical analysis, he is second-best among left-arm spinners since 1900 (min. 50 wickets) which is awesome. But he rubbed the administrators and his captain Peter May the wrong way. He would have played a lot more games for England but for May's preference for his Surrey team-mate Tony Lock.
Time for a lovely story: Johnny Martin
who played for Australia in the sixties bowled his chinaman very slowly through the air. In a Sheffield Shield match, Martin beat a batsmen all ends up and struck him on the back foot in front of the stumps. To his utter disgust, the Umpire turned down his appeal. Martin asks the umpire: "What's wrong, ump, isn't he in front?" Umpire: "Yes son, he is". Martin: "Then why isn't he out?" Umpire: "Because the ball wouldn't have reached the stumps, Johnny!"
Why is it that most of the chinaman bowlers are from Australia? Is there something in the Australian air that makes spinners bowl back-of-the-hand wrist spin rather than finger spin? Just as they have given cricket so many famous legspinners from Mailey to Warne and MacGill, so too have they provided us a line of chinaman bowlers, from Fleetwood-Smith
. Strangely, Australia hardly has a worthy presence among orthodox left-arm spinners.
Fleetwood-Smith (10 Tests, 42 wickets) in spite of some sterling performances in the 1930s is unfortunately best remembered as the bowler who conceded the highest number of runs
in an innings - one for 298 out of an England score of 903 for 7. This was The Oval
test where Hutton made 364.
Much later, Lindsay Kline
(13 Tests, 34 wickets) and Martin (eight Tests, 17 wickets) had their unforgettable moments too: Kline took a hat-trick against South Africa in 1957
but his moment of glory was as a No. 11 bat for Australia in the famous 1960-61 series against West Indies. Coming in as the last batsman he stayed for more than 100 minutes with Slasher Mackay to earn Australia a draw in Adelaide
. More than the fact that he lasted against Hall, Sobers, Worrell and Gibbs for that long, what was amazing was that he was practicing at the nets in the afternoon against similar bowling for more than an hour as if anticipating what he would be called upon to do later that day! Immediately after, he was dropped for the final Test - typical of Australian cricket, no sentiment at all.
Martin's moment came in the same series. After the famous Tie in Brisbane, Australia won the second Test comfortably in Melbourne
, thanks to Davidson and Martin's bowling. In a golden spell, Martin removed Kanhai, Sobers and Worrell in four balls. Had he done it in three, it would surely have ranked as the grandest hat-trick ever!
Time once more to pull the leg of the chinaman bowler: This story was told with great relish by Dileep Sardesai
. In the fourth Test in Barbados
of India's landmark tour of West Indies in 1971 - the series belonged as much to Sardesai as it did to Gavaskar - India were 70 for 6 and Sardesai was left with Solkar to repair the damage. Sobers, the West Indies captain, had Inshan Ali
their chinaman bowler on at one end. Now, for the Indians this slow bowler was a far happier proposition and not wanting Sobers to change him, Sardesai and Solkar decided that in every Inshan Ali over they would deliberately appear to be beaten by the odd delivery, as though they had failed to pick him. Sardesai chortled that the extended spell to Inshan Ali actually helped the Indian cause. Knowing Sardesai, this could well be a true story!
Not much need be said about the chinaman bowlers of the last 25 years. We have watched them in close detail on TV. None more so than Paul Adams
of South Africa, perhaps the only bowler to have ever had his face towards the umpire while delivering! His action - called frog in the blender - caused great consternation to the English batsmen when he was first unleashed. But batsmen sorted him out in time, because although Adams bowled good length and line he became too predictable. Nevertheless, by the time he finished he had 134 wickets in 45 matches. More recently, we have seen Hogg - tongue hanging out - bowl for Australia. Katich bowls too but we think that he should be bowled a lot more by Ponting.
It is surprising that the sub continent that produced left-arm orthodox spinners (Vinoo Mankad
, Bishan Bedi
, Dilip Doshi
and Iqbal Qasim
come to mind), does not have a single chinaman bowler in its Test history. The one chinaman bowler who could have played for India was a wonderfully gifted bowler from Hyderabad - Mumtaz Hussain
. A contemporary of Gavaskar, Mumtaz promised a lot when he made his name in university and Ranji Trophy cricket with a mesmerizing mix of orthodox left-arm, chinaman and the googly. He was so difficult to read that the keeper had to devise a set of hand signals to read him. Sadly within a couple of seasons Mumtaz had greatly reduced his chinaman and bowled mainly orthodox finger spin. Soon - for it was the time when Bedi ruled - Mumtaz faded away into the anonymity of first-class cricket. It is probably the closest that India came to having an international chinaman bowler.