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Chinaman bowling: Origin, technique and famous bowlers

The art of bowling left arm leg spin is basically called Chinaman bowling in cricket. It was the emergence of Kuldeep Yadav on the international scene, which proved to be a gateway for cricket fans came to know about the unique style of chinaman bowling. 

Kuldeep Yadav is the first Chinaman bowler to play a Test match for India after making his debut in March 2017. Chinaman bowlers are a rare tribe and their bowling action and signature delivery are considered very unique in the world of cricket. Popularised by the likes of Brad Hogg and Sir Garry Sobers, Chinaman bowling is extremely difficult and it takes a great deal of practice and skill to perfect the delivery.

Modern-day batters often struggle to read Chinaman bowlers given how rare they are. However, Chinaman bowlers often run the risk of becoming predictable with the time, as was also the case with Kuldeep Yadav who lost his magic.

But what is Chinaman, where did it originate and who are some of the greatest Chinaman bowlers in cricket history? Let’s discuss below:

What is Chinaman bowling?

What is Chinaman bowling? In layman’s terms, a bowler bowling left arm leg spin or left arm unorthodox spin is called Chinaman bowling and the bowler is said to be a Chinaman. The ball is spun from the wrists by a left-hander, and it is a mirror image of a right-arm bowler’s leg break.

While a left-arm orthodox spinner is known to turn the ball away from the right-hander, a Chinaman bowler brings the ball back into the batter which can make it quite tricky to handle. The natural instinct of a right-hander is to expect the ball to turn away from the batter and go into the off-stump while facing an orthodox left-arm spin bowler. As a result, he is left surprised by a Chinaman delivery because of the sharp turn it generates while drifting inwards.

The art of Chinaman bowling traditionally deals with left-arm wrist spin and left-arm wrist spinners often end up mastering the delivery quickly. The Chinaman bowler also possesses the natural variations of a normal left-arm wrist spinner. The stock delivery comes into the right-handed batsman and leaves a left-handed batsman. If skillful left-arm spinners also possess a ‘Googly’ ball, the surprise delivery ends up leaving away from the right-hander and coming into the left-hander.

Chinaman bowling: Origin

Where did Chinaman bowling originate from? Former South African all-rounder Charlie Llewellyn, who played towards the end of the 19th century is considered to be one of the earliest exponents of Chinaman bowling. For a long time, he was also considered to be the first South African to be born to both black and white parents to have played international cricket.

However, in the history of cricket books, the name of West Indies spinner and the first Test cricketer of Chinese origin Ellis ‘Puss’ Achong is synonymous with Chinaman bowling.

While the cricket following intelligentsia continues to debate about whether Achong did really bowl the Chinaman delivery regularly as there are chances that he actually used it as a variation of his usual finger-spin deliveries, Achong is certainly associated with the famous anecdote which led to the delivery getting its name in the first place.

During the 1933 Old Trafford Test between England and West Indies, Achong managed to surprise English batsman Walter Robins with a ball that broke back in sharply from the line of off stump. According to folklore, he was left so frustrated by the dismissals that Robins reportedly walked away and remarked to the umpire Joe Hardstaff SR, “Fancy being done by a bloody Chinaman”.

As a result, wrist-spun deliveries from a left-arm bowler came to be known as Chinaman from that point on.

Another part of the same anecdote also suggests that Learie Constantine, who was considered to be arguably the greatest all-rounder of his era, and later became the first black man to sit in the British House of Lords, was fielding during that day of the Test match, was fielding that day, and upon overhearing Robins’ remark, said, “Is that the man or the ball?”

While his alleged statement has no chance of being proven but most people believe that if anyone could have said that, it would probably be Constantine. He ended up authoring the book ‘Colour Bar’ in 1954 which got him an entrance to the English bar that year.

He also returned to his native Trinidad and became its first High Commissioner in London but ended up resigning from his position in 1964 over a bus dispute in Bristol and the subsequent falling out with the British Prime Minister.

The best Chinaman bowlers in cricket: Top five list

Brad Hogg | Australia

Brad Hogg is considered to be the most successful Chinaman bowler in the history of cricket. He peaked late in his career but was a key member of the Australian World Cup winning sides of 2003 and 2007.

The presence of Shane Warne in the Australian team didn’t allow him to embrace the limelight as much as he’d have liked but Hogg continued to mesmerize the world with his deliveries and played franchise cricket for T20 leagues across the world even until his late 40s.

Chuck Fleetwood Smith | Australia

Chuck Fleetwood Smith was regarded as a genius turner of the cricket ball and he played 10 Tests for Australia between 1935 and 1938 during which he took 42 wickets. Over his career, he is believed to have taken 597 first-class wickets and would’ve enjoyed a longer period in international cricket had it not been for competition in the form of Bill O’Reilly and Clarrie Grimmett.

However, he did make his mark for the Australian senior side and played a massive role in helping the Don Bradman-led Australian team turn around a 0-2 deficit to win the 1937 Ashes 3-2. Fleetwood Smith’s dismissal of English batsman Wally Hammond in the fourth Test is often spoken of to be in the same league as that of Shane Warne’s that dismissal of Mike Gatting.

Paul Adams | South Africa

Paul Adams’ unorthodox bowling action took the world by surprise when he came on to the scene as a teenager in 1995-96. His action was said to be like a ‘frog in a blender.’ Adams enjoyed an extremely successful period during his first year in international cricket as batters found it difficult to negotiate with his spin bowling and were often left surprised.

However, over time, Adams became predictable due to the lack of variety in his bowling and injuries further compounded those issues. The emergence of Nicky Boje further sidelined him and he played his last Test match for South Africa in 2004, finishing with 134 Test wickets in 45 matches and with 29 wickets in 24 ODI matches.

Johnny Wardle | England

Englishman Johnny Wardle is often considered to be one of the most skillful left-arm spinners in the history of the game. However, he was unfortunate to not have a prolonged career at the top level partly because of Tony Lock who bowled left-arm orthodox spin. While Wardle also bowled classical left-arm orthodox like Lock, he also possessed the Chinaman delivery in his arsenal which he used frequently while playing for England.

That delivery turned out to be crucial for him during England’s tour of South Africa in 1956-57 where he took 26 wickets in four Tests at an average of 13.81 and overall 90 wickets on the entire tour. Wardle is the only Chinaman bowler to play Test matches for England till date and he finished his career with 1846 first-class wickets, and also 102 Test wickets (taken at a stunning average of 20.39)

Garfield Sobers | West Indies

The great Garfield Sobers of West Indies needs little introduction. Considered by many to be one of the finest all-rounders in the history of the sport, he had a distinguished career.

Sobers began his career as a left-arm orthodox spinner but adapted his game over the years and he also added left-arm medium fast and chinaman bowling styles to his arsenal. The chinaman and googly deliveries were combined with wrist spin to brutal effect, especially during the tours of the subcontinent and on the turning tracks of India.


Who is the Chinaman bowler from India?

Kuldeep Yadav is the Chinaman bowler from Team India.

Who are the best left-arm leg spinners in the world?

Among currently active players, Kuldeep Yadav and Tabraiz Shamsi are considered to be the best left-arm leg spinners in the world.

Who are left-arm unorthodox spinners?

Left-arm wrist spinners are also known as left-arm unorthodox bowlers where bowlers use the wrist to spin the ball from left to right after pitching.

Who is the greatest bowler of right arm leg spin?

Shane Warne is said to be the greatest right-arm-leg spin bowler. The stalwart from Australia is one of the greatest to have played the game and ended his career with the second highest number of wickets in Test cricket (708 wickets in 145 Test matches).


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