Will we ever see a great left-arm wrist spinner at Test level?

Callum Thomson Roar Guru

By Callum Thomson, Callum Thomson is a Roar Guru


17 Have your say

    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?

    Scorchers Brad Hogg

    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.

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    The Crowd Says (17)

    • Roar Guru

      March 15th 2017 @ 9:15am
      Chris Kettlewell said | March 15th 2017 @ 9:15am | ! Report

      I think just the fact it’s referred to as such a gimmicky name helps push the thought of it being a bit of a gimmicky art. You have leg-spinners, off-spinners and left-arm orthodox, which are all proper names. Then you have “chinaman”. And there’s no other real, official name for that type of spin bowling.

      The fact is that there are a lot more left-handed batsmen around these days. A lot of that comes from the fact that so many right-handed people are batting left-handed now. With that increase in people batting that way around you’d think there should be no reason why a left-arm wrist spinner should be any less valid than a right-arm wrist spinner. But people simply don’t take them as seriously, which I think is a massive part of the reason why it’s just such a rare thing.

      Also, the truth is, that so few spinners of any sort actually reach the stage of being able to be called great spin bowlers. Just look at Nathan Lyon. He’s is already the most capped spinner in Australian history after Shane Warne. Even spinners who were really good so often don’t get the long international careers that batsmen and fast bowlers get.

      • Roar Guru

        March 15th 2017 @ 2:58pm
        Callum Thomson said | March 15th 2017 @ 2:58pm | ! Report

        That is a good point about spinners not having long international careers. Most teams only have one spot for a spinner in their team. I think people don’t take them seriously because we haven’t really seen a successful Chinaman. Even with more left-handed batsmen I still don’t see left-arm wrist spin becoming more popular, I think instead there will be an increase in right-arm orthodox and the continue rise of left-arm finger spinners, simply because wrist spin is too hard.

        • Roar Guru

          March 15th 2017 @ 10:13pm
          Chris Kettlewell said | March 15th 2017 @ 10:13pm | ! Report

          There has always been a lot more finger spin than wrist spin anyway.

          • Roar Guru

            March 16th 2017 @ 8:20am
            Callum Thomson said | March 16th 2017 @ 8:20am | ! Report

            Yes there has. But I think the gap between the number of finger spinners and the number of wrist spinners will increase

          • March 16th 2017 @ 9:30pm
            John Erichsen said | March 16th 2017 @ 9:30pm | ! Report

            If only Shane Warne had been left handed. We would now have a plague of left arm wrist spinners playing the game from under 8’s up.

    • March 15th 2017 @ 12:50pm
      Pope Paul VII said | March 15th 2017 @ 12:50pm | ! Report

      As you say Chris there are many lefty bats now. And why shouldn’t the be as effective as an offie? It’s the same delivery to the omnipresent right hander.

      David Hourn was a great exponent for NSW back in the 70s. Unlucky not to play a test or two.

      Also I’ve been know to jag a wicket or two with them when varying the old left arm medium so I’m particulary partial.

      So bring on the lost art.

      • Roar Guru

        March 15th 2017 @ 3:34pm
        Callum Thomson said | March 15th 2017 @ 3:34pm | ! Report

        Left-arm unorthodox can potentially be more effective than right-arm offies because of the different angle created. I’ve never heard of David Hourn but from the brief google I’ve just done he looked like a really good first class bowler. I’m probably a bit bias towards Chinaman’s because I also bowl the craft but I really hope we see it flourish with more left-handers coming through.

        • March 15th 2017 @ 5:17pm
          Pope Paul VII said | March 15th 2017 @ 5:17pm | ! Report

          Get stuck in Cal. Practice your heart out.

          Dave Hourn’s nickname was “Cracker”. Meet him once, very funny guy. I actually saw his 9/77 on TV when the Sheffield Shield was televised. Silly me, I wanted to be a fast bowler and failed to be inspired although I was impressed.

          • March 16th 2017 @ 5:07am
            Armchair Expert said | March 16th 2017 @ 5:07am | ! Report

            I also watched that game on ABC, several of his victims went on to play test cricket in the next year or 2.

        • Roar Guru

          March 15th 2017 @ 10:20pm
          Chris Kettlewell said | March 15th 2017 @ 10:20pm | ! Report

          I was always an allrounder and bowling-wise mostly stuck to the quick stuff, but often pulled out the chinaman in the nets and did bowl a couple of times in games and got a couple of wickets with it. I always got nice drift and a bit of grip and turn with the leggie and batsmen rarely picked the wrong’un, so if I could land it I could often get wickets with it. But same as Pope, that was more a bit of fun on the side (and in later years I also bowled some finger spin also), with my bowling mostly focussed on the quick stuff.

      • May 7th 2017 @ 7:22am
        qwetzen said | May 7th 2017 @ 7:22am | ! Report

        A Man in a Silly Hat said: “David Hourn was a great exponent for NSW back in the 70s. Unlucky not to play a test or two.”

        Possibly. Especially as his main rival was Jim Higgs. That Hourn couldn’t unseat the fabulously uncordinated Higgs gives a fair indication of just how bad Hourn was at batting and fielding. A good piece of fielding by Hourn was one where he didn’t injure himself.

    • Roar Guru

      March 15th 2017 @ 1:14pm
      JGK said | March 15th 2017 @ 1:14pm | ! Report

      The rise of the left handed batsman has seen the rise of the left handed fast bowler. Wrist spinners take more time but there has probably never been a better time to take up left hand wrist spin than today.

      Of past players, Aust had Chuck Fleetwood-Smith who took nearly 600 first class wickets at 22 and would have had a pretty good Test career if not for his final Test at the Oval in 1938 and WWII.

      There was also the great English bowler Johnny Wardle just after WWII who bowled a mixture of chinamen and orthodox – a very useful skill indeed.

      • Roar Guru

        March 15th 2017 @ 4:19pm
        Callum Thomson said | March 15th 2017 @ 4:19pm | ! Report

        I came across Fleetwood-Smith in my research, it’s a shame that his self-discipline was poor, he sounded like quite some talent. Johnny Wardle sounded like a good cricketer, having the lowest test bowling average of a spinner since WWl is some achievement. It is probably the best time to take up left arm wrist spin but the problem is whether any young kids pick up the talent and if they do have coaches that don’t brainwash them to bowl pace.

        • March 17th 2017 @ 12:13pm
          ChrisB said | March 17th 2017 @ 12:13pm | ! Report

          Unfortunately Wardle was mostly a tradition SLA (a great one though) who generally bowled the over the wrist stuff on tours – to Aus in 54/55 and SA in 56/7 where he took 25 wickets in 4 tests.
          Fleetwood-Smith also infamously took 1/298 in the innings where England declared at 7/903 in 1938.
          It just seems impossible to maintain consistency as a ‘Chinaman’ bowler. Though there have been a lot with very good first class statistics, the likes of Jack Walsh, George Tribe (both Aussies mostly in England), or Johnny Martin, David Hourn, more recently David Freedman or Hoggy have decent first class stats, or you get one’s like Paul Adams who have a great test or two intermingled with lots of dross.
          Seriously though even in lower grades where I now play (age related I hasten to add) last season I took 4/11 one week, then next week I was carted, about 0/50 off 4 overs, and there’s no real reason for it. It lands one week, then next it doesn’t.
          Add in that it often turns too prodigiously for batsmen, or keepers/slippers and its a frustrating ‘craft’

    • March 16th 2017 @ 5:03am
      Armchair Expert said | March 16th 2017 @ 5:03am | ! Report

      Beau Casson took a few wickets in his only test in 2008 but was playing NSW 2nd XI games a few months later, as Sandakan showed last year vs Australia, their main weapon is their wrong un.

    • Roar Pro

      March 17th 2017 @ 12:21pm
      Andrew Young said | March 17th 2017 @ 12:21pm | ! Report

      Guilty as charged… Although a batsman who bowls part time spin, i was initially a Chinaman bowler, and made the transition to the “dark side”- becoming yet another “part time offie.”
      Why? Evidently it is easier, and I am more likely to get a few overs from the captain, as it is a far less risky to go to the part time orthodox bowler, than the part time Chinaman.
      However, and this is crucial, I feel a Chinaman bowler is a far more valuable asset to any team (a full-time one, that is.) If for nothing other than shock factor, few batsman these days play against them, or know how best to approach facing it. In terms of it being “less dangerous” because it spins back to the batsman, I would disagree; the element of sending the ball across the right hander in flight, before turning it back towards the stumps creates elements of uncertainty and danger.
      Stick with it! I wish I had.

    • May 7th 2017 @ 7:05am
      qwetzen said | May 7th 2017 @ 7:05am | ! Report

      There’s two valid reasons why a Chinaman could thrive in Tests;

      1. As has been pointed out, while 10-12% of the population are Lefties, the %age of top order batsman is much higher than that.
      2. If a Chinaman does get through to Tests then he should be more productive now with TechnoUmp there to assist, a la G Swann.

      re David Hourn: I too saw his 9 fer for NSW v Vic. Does anyone also remember how sociable as a newt Keith Miller was at the mike?

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