Kuldeep Yadav: The Chinaman from Uttar Pradesh
"Cricket cannot call itself a global game when one-fifth of the world's population is not aware of it".
Ehsan Mani, a former ICC President who championed the cause of the expansion of the game into unexplored markets had this much to say about China’s conspicuous absence.
For an Asian superpower that could have within its vast populace, untapped talent in a sport that is religiously followed by its immediate neighbours, it is a shame that China has no cricketing history to speak of. Its minimal stake yet in the sport is that of being an Affiliate member in the ICC. However, in irony, lies the truth. That it has lent its trademark to an iconic term in cricketing parlance is not a truth lost on the average cricket fan. It is the Chinaman that we are talking about, an age-old tradition of bowling that has seen very few practitioners over the years and lesser who have forged successful careers.
Chinaman – The Origin
The story goes that Ellis Achong, a player of Chinese origin turning out for West Indies way back in 1933 had England’s right-handed batsman Walter Robins stumped off a mysterious delivery bowled with a left armer’s wrist action that pitched outside off and turned into leg as opposed to the stock delivery moving away from the right-hander. A literally stumped Robins turned towards him expressing his displeasure and remarked, ‘Fancy being out to a bloody Chinaman’. The line has become a part of cricketing folklore and the name has since then stuck to define an unorthodox variety of left arm spin that leaves the left hander or spins into the right hander after its pitching.
The Art of Chinaman bowling
In principle, a chinaman’s trajectory is an exact mirror image of conventional right arm leg spin or in other words, the ball turns like a right arm off spinner. As opposed to a right arm off spinner (finger spinner) who uses his fingers to impart spin, the chinaman gives the ball a rip using his wrists like a right arm leg spinner. A ball delivered in this manner either leaves the left hander or turns into the right hander. As a surprise element, most chinaman bowlers also have a wrong’un/googly in their repertoire that follows the opposite trajectory. Left-arm wrist spin is a difficult art to master and there are no prizes for guessing very few in the game have employed this style of bowling.
Brad Hogg’s wizardry, Adams’ blender, Sobers and other Chinamen
One of the most captivating sights in modern day cricket was that of Brad Hogg ambling towards the crease, tongue sticking out and wrists ready to give the ball a strong rip, ready to bamboozle the batsmen. The Aussie emerged out of the shadows of his illustrious contemporary Shane Warne to finish off as their 2nd highest wicket-taking spinner in ODIs. At 45, Hogg is the oldest cricketer in the T20 circuit and can still trouble the best of batsmen on his day as seen from his exploits for Kolkata Knight Riders in the IPL. South African Paul Adams had one of the weirdest bowling actions in the game. ‘Frog in the blender’ as it was called, for the head literally fell off in delivery stride, Adams is South Africa’s highest wicket taker among left arm spinners in Tests. Garry Sobers could do anything on a cricket field, from hitting sixes around the ground to bowling left-arm fast medium and spin. Chinaman was not to be left behind.
The previous edition of the IPL saw an unknown Shivil Kaushik becoming an overnight sensation for Gujarat Lions with his Paul Adams like quirky action. Royal Challengers Bangalore drafted Tabraiz Shamsi to lend variety to their bowling that was hit by the absence of Mitchell Starc and Samuel Badree. Part-timers like Michael Bevan and Simon Katich are the other well-known exponents of this variety of bowling
Kuldeep Yadav – India’s Chinaman
Left-arm chinaman is a rare bowling style in world cricket, more so in India.
Living in Hogg’s shadows in the KKR camp for quite some while now, but regarded as good as the former by erstwhile Erapalli Prasanna, is Kuldeep Yadav - India’s answer to left arm unorthodoxy. In a country that has never in history fielded a chinaman bowler in its team, the lad hailing from Uttar Pradesh is in the nascent stages of his career but has been steadily grabbing attention in the domestic circuit. Yadav started off as a left-arm medium pacer but a freak slower ball experiment in the nets convinced his coach Kapil Pandey to switch his protégé into chinaman bowling. He hasn’t looked back since, making rapid strides in age group cricket.
A chance meeting with Shane Warne at the National Cricket Academy and stints at the Mumbai Indians nets where he reportedly got the better of even Sachin Tendulkar saw his stocks rising. He made his U-19 debut for India as a 17-year old and later represented India in its Under 19 World Cup campaign in 2014. His first ticket to fame arrived when he picked up a hat-trick in the World Cup game against Scotland, becoming the first ever Indian bowler to do so in the tournament. Continuing to trouble batsmen with his variety, he ended a highly successful tournament as the joint second highest wicket-taker, with a tally of 14 wickets.
However, it was the 2014 edition of the now defunct Champions League T20 that catapulted him into fame. His bowling spells for KKR partnering Sunil Narine caught the attention of the national selectors and Kuldeep earned his maiden call-up to the national squad when he was picked for India’s ODI series against West Indies in 2014, though he did not feature in any of the games. At that time, Kuldeep had not played a first-class game and it was his unorthodoxy and youth cricket exploits that were rewarded.
In first class cricket, the 21-year-old sparsely turns out for Uttar Pradesh, having picked 42 wickets in 12 outings at an average of 32.42. He has better returns to show in domestic T20s with 37 wickets in 20 games at an average of 16.86.
Kuldeep attributes his success to his ability to mix plenty of variation with an impeccable control of line and length many others of his ilk find difficult to master. He claims he learnt the art of spin bowling from Youtube videos of Shane Warne’s bowling. Besides the chinaman and the wrong’un, he has also now added the flipper to his armoury under the tutelage of Hogg at KKR but he also admits that control is also paramount to sustained success.
“Variations are very essential for my type of a bowler because not many batsmen can pick me when they first come in. But what’s more important is that I use my variations carefully and not overdo it. I judge a batsman by how he plays me in the first few balls and then plan accordingly. If the batsman is struggling to pick me, I try and set him up carefully before sneaking in a variation. If he’s set, I keep bowling to my field and control the game. It’s very easy for me when they try to play shots. But there have been times when the batsmen have tried to be patient with me, which is when I try to not get frustrated and keep probing away”, Yadav explained his art in an interview to Live Mint.
A promising career is ahead of him but his recent exploits for India Red in the Duleep Trophy where he registered his first 5-wicket haul in first-class cricket, have prompted many to advocate fast-tracking him into the Indian Test squad ahead of the upcoming 13 Test Indian home season. While a national spot is some distance away, there is no reason why he shouldn’t puzzle the visiting batsmen given the chance.