Ellis Achong - the man often considered to be responsible for the term 'Chinaman'

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Wets Indies versus England, Lord’s, 1933.

As Ellis Edgar “Puss” Achong ran in to send down his slow left arm spin, Walter Robins, the Middlesex amateur, was in a belligerent mood. He stepped down the wicket, his intentions aggressive. The ball came back into him after landing, went through his legs, and Barrow whipped off the bails. Robins was out for 55.

As he walked back, Robins turned to the umpire Joe Hardstaff Senior and blurted out in the earshot of Learie Constantine, “Fancy getting out to a bloody Chinaman”. In this day and age, it does seem a rather politically incorrect expletive targeted to this Port of Spain spinner of Chinese origin.

Curious too that Robins should have been offended, given that the ball turning into him was a legitimate wrist-spin delivery by the left-arm spinner. It was not the wrong ’un at all. There are some who maintain that the term Chinaman should be used for the one that goes the other way for the left-arm wrist spinner, not the normal deliveries which turn in to the right-handed batsman.

The term Chinaman, was in any case, coined earlier. As shown by B Sreeram, two years before this Achong-Robins event Maurice Leyland had Stan Nichols caught by wicketkeeper Arthur Wood in the Yorkshire-Essex encounter at Headingley. Hull Daily Mail reported that the batsman had been chasing ‘Leyland’s Chinaman’.

However, Achong's name is forever linked to the rare art of left-arm wrist spin. He was a fantastic exponent of this particular type of bowling. Learie Constantine, who incidentally hovered within earshot when Robins barked those infamous words, later wrote that Achong’s “slows could tempt an angel out of heaven.”

Ellis Achong was born on February 6, 1904

Text: Arunabha Sengupta
Illustration: Maha