As a young chinaman bowler, I know all too well the struggles of this challenging craft. I completely understand why most left-armers bowl either pace or left-arm orthodox.
Will we ever see a player revolutionise cricket and become the first great chinaman bowler? I sadly do not think so.
A chinaman is a left-arm unorthodox bowler who bowls wrist spin and turns it back into a right-handed batsman. Some famous examples are Brad Hogg (eight Tests), Paul Adams (45 Tests) and Lindsay Kline (13 Tests). These players are not household names.
Simon Katich, Michael Bevan and Garfield Sobers are big names, but these three only bowled left-arm wrist spin as part-timers. Sure, these guys were good, but none of them were great chinaman bowlers.
The term comes from Ellis Achong, a West Indian who was the first ever Test cricketer of Chinese descent. Achong managed to get English batsman Walter Robins out stumped and on his way back to the pavilion Robins said, “Fancy being done by a bloody Chinaman.”
There are a number of factors as to why chinaman bowlers are rare. They spin the ball into the right-hander, which is less dangerous to the batsman, meaning it is less likely to get a wicket. It is much easier to bowl finger spin than wrist spin and only ten per cent of the population is left-handed. Why would you bother to bowl a much harder craft for worse results?
Chinaman bowlers need to be looked after by junior coaches and captains, otherwise they will become extinct. This would be a real shame, as it is such a great craft.
Thankfully there are a few up-and-comers emerging. Indian Kuldeep Yadav is the next big hope. The 22-year-old is currently in the squad playing Australia in the four-Test series.
Lakshan Sandakan is a 25-year-old who has played in all forms of the game for Sri Lanka. Making his debut in the Test team last year against Australia, Sandakan has taken 11 wickets at 27.72 from four Tests. Hopefully he takes the next step and becomes a regular in the Sri Lankan side.
Moving to domestic players, Liam Bowe has come onto the scene this season, playing two games for the Melbourne Stars after taking 18 wickets in Premier Cricket for Essendon. Dubbed ‘The Wizard’ for his resemblance to Harry Potter, Bowe has been compared to Brad Hogg by mentor Craig Howard. Bowe is only 19 years old and still has a lot of room for improvement.
Yadav and Sandakan can both be handy players at international level but will either of them be great? Yadav has the potential, but India need to give him a chance and stick with him if he doesn’t work out in his first couple of Tests, should he ever play one.
As for Bowe, I am not sure if he will ever play international cricket. I would like to see him play for Victoria in the years to come and see if he is capable of taking the next step.
This next generation will make or break the evolution of the craft. I hope we see a chinaman bowler burst onto the Test scene and show that it isn’t impossible to be successful bowling left-arm unorthodox.
If we don’t, I fear we’ll see the extinction of the craft.