COMMENT: It's time cricket changes its Chinaman narrative

Is it time cricket took a new approach to left-arm Chinaman bowling and its etymology?

Barnaby Read
by Barnaby Read
25th March 2017

article:25th March 2017

Kuldeep Yadav's Chinaman action put Australia to the sword.
Kuldeep Yadav's Chinaman action put Australia to the sword.

There is a beauty and richness to cricket’s vocabulary, its long history of the genteel practitioners that lends to a nuanced vernacular like no other sport.

We have googlie, there is meaning to legs before wickets and king pairs, an undeniable link between leather and willow that you either smell or yield, two blokes named Duckworth and Lewis causing manic checks of spreadsheets and a litany of others that make it one of the most convoluted sporting dictionaries in the world.


To the untrained linguist that is. To those well versed, however, it is a language that makes perfect sense and is one to revel in the depths of.

This terminology has stood the test of time, each surviving the modernity of Twenty20 and are still uttered with the same mixture of bafflement and nods in agreement that they always have to both the unfamiliar and the familiar.

There is an archaic reverence to cricketing tongues which, for the most part, still hold relevance today.

But, among the colossus volumes of cricketing words and wordplay, there is one so archaic and out of touch with modern society it surely has no place in the sport. Or at least the etymology needs some reimagining.

Rumour has it that way back in 1933, Eliss “Puss” Achong, the first known Test cricketer of Chinese descent, ripped one from off-stump to leg-stump with a left-arm leg-spinner to dismiss England’s Walter Robbins.

It was, surely, one of the most incredible of sights as the art of left-arm wrist spin spat into consciousness like the ball off the wicket by the West Indian.

As the tale goes, Robbins, baffled and bemused, then walked past the umpire and uttered the words “fancy being done by a bloody Chinaman.”

And the legend states that from there the term left-arm Chinaman was given to southpaw leggies, a moniker born out of the casual racism of a future England captain.

It’s debatable whether this exchange ever happened but it is one that the sport is happy to wheel out, electing the narrative to be driven by Robbins’ off-colour remark rather than, say, focusing on the barriers Achong was breaking down 90 years ago.

And so, as Kuldeep Yadav tore apart the Australian batting order on day one of the fourth Test with Australia, the commentators giggled and fawned over the tale of Robbins’ statement.

Not an ounce of irony, not the faintest edge of distain for what is clearly a story that hinges on an Englishman’s indignant response toward a foreigner, a la modern-day Brexit narratives albeit in an era where such an utterance would have drawn little outrage.

But it is not 1933, it is 2017 and there is no place for such antiquated terms and it shows that cricket is still out of touch with the modern world.

Anyway, surely left-arm leg-spinner or left-arm wrist spinner is just fine?

And if not, and we stick to Chinaman, how about we put a more positive spin on things and remember the term for the brilliance of Achong, not the contempt he was met with by his opponent.


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