In this acrimony-filled India v Australia series, the unpleasantness has often spread to the news space – “Virat Kohli has become the Donald Trump of world sport” quite the lowlight of the vitriol – and played out in its worst possible forms on social media, Twitter especially.
The space and time for debate is clearly on the wane – 140 characters, even with a few slashes and plusses, provide scant room for nuance. Not always. Some put those scant characters to good use. There’s a gentleman many cricket readers know well – Andrew Wu, the journalist with Sydney Morning Herald.
He raised a very valid question on Sunday, tweeting: “My challenge to cricket: get racially offensive terminology out of the game”. The terminology, in this case, is ‘Chinaman’, trending since Kuldeep Yadav made a splash.
Now, I wonder if it’s the constant trolling that led Wu to it. His own ancestry, which has nothing to do with his profession, has been picked up for special ridicule (and worse), and he has – for no apparent reason apart from voicing his thoughts, which is what SMH pay him for – been the target of tremendous, and relentless, racist abuse ever since #Shouldergate hit us. Some of it has been positively nauseating. And Wu, while he sounded like he was on the verge of losing his cool at times, has largely maintained his equanimity and wit, and poise – credit to him for that.
I recall, in some detail, a conversation with my donnish but happily cricket-ignorant half when Chinaman, the outstanding book by Shehan Karunatilaka, came out a few years back. I was raving about it, of course. But she got stuck at the title. “Isn’t that very, very racist,” she asked. “What does it mean anyway?”
I hemmed and hawed, spoke of Ellis Achong, and did what I could to get her past the cover. No go. “It’s racist,” she argued. “I can’t believe you don’t have a problem with it.” I do, actually, I offered, but, you know, that’s just how it has always been, and nobody seems to mind.
Wu does, though. As does Geoff Lemon, the wonderful Australian journalist who has written so often for Wisden India.
The trolling, obviously and expectedly, started after Wu proposed the motion on Twitter and Lemon seconded it. And in three tweets, all replies to others’, Lemon might have finished off the debate too.
Tweet 1: Seeing lots of “but what about…” Cricket has weird terminology, but I can’t think of any other example that’s historically a racist slur.
Tweet 2: Just because you’ve always done something doesn’t give it inherent value. People act like their identity is threatened by any minor change.
Tweet 3: “But Chinaman is named after Ellis Achong.” Yep. Of whom the most notable thing England found was his race. But that’s not racist. Nah.
Apparently, a South African gent called Charlie Llewellyn, who played 15 Tests between 1896 and 1912, used to bowl some sort of wrist spin with his left arm. He was a medium pacer as such, but might have been the pioneer of what came to be known as Chinaman.
In any case, the term stuck after Trinidadian Achong, nicknamed ‘Puss’, had Walter Robins stumped with a wrist-spinner during the 1933 Old Trafford Test. All records put Achong down as a left-arm orthodox spinner, but he seems to have befuddled Robins with one that was delivered with a rotation of the wrist, a left-armer’s legbreak. The story, widely accepted, goes that Robins remarked on his way back, or after reaching the dressing room, “Fancy being done in by a bloody Chinaman.”
Achong was the first man of Chinese origin to play Test cricket.
So the style of bowling – amazingly not as common as it should be, considering it’s really only the left-armer’s legspin – came to be known as ‘Chinaman’.
Not racist? Tell me another!
Imagine if Robins had been stumped off BJT Bosanquet before the googly became common enough – what are the odds that the old boy would have picked Bosanquet’s ancestry or place of origin or somesuch to express his shock and disgust? Unlikely.
Let’s take Mankading as another example. It isn’t quite Dilscoop in just being named after the first to practice it – with Mankading, there is the element of it being considered unfair, against the spirit of the game. It isn’t, but that’s another matter. I wonder if it would have been named so if the practitioner hadn’t been Indian and Bill Brown, who was stupid enough to get himself run out, Australian.
Now, I am a great one for tradition but to excuse racism for it makes no sense. It’s criminal, really. And cricket – or the world at large – should have no space for it.
ICC’s Anti-Racism Policy mentions the body’s “continuing efforts to maintain the public image, popularity and integrity of cricket”. Now that ‘Chinaman’ has come up for discussion, it needs to be acted on. In almost every conceivable way, give or take a break two-thirds into a day of a Test match for a cuppa, cricket has changed since the days of Gentlemen and Players and ‘Jolly good shot that, sir’. To be fixated with a random slur from 1933 does the sport no good.
Chinaman should really be rechristened left-arm legspin, because that’s what it is. The same way Mankading should be regarded as just another run out, and descriptions of it mention the non-striker’s irresponsible behaviour and the bowler’s smarts and nothing else. Handling the ball recently went out of the crictionary, how tough can it be to remove Chinaman?
If that happens, Wu and his supporters would have done excellent service to cricket. They already have, of course, by bringing it up at all.
The International Cricket Council’s Anti-Racism Policy mentions the governing body’s “continuing efforts to maintain the public image, popularity and integrity of cricket”. Now that ‘Chinaman’ has come up for discussion, it needs to be acted on.
In almost every conceivable way, give or take a break two-thirds into a day of a Test match for a cuppa, cricket has changed since the days of Gentlemen and Players and ‘Jolly good shot that, sir’. To be fixated with a random slur from 1933 does the sport no good.
And while we are at it, maybe we can debate why right-arm spinners bowl ‘offspin’ but left-arm spinners bowl ‘left-arm orthodox’. Isn’t it just a left-armer’s offspin? Maybe ‘right-arm offspin’ and ‘left-arm offspin’ then? To go with ‘right-arm legspin’ and ‘left-arm legspin’? Yes, that should do it.
Meanwhile, I’ll go discuss this book called ‘Left-arm Legspin’ with the partner. Doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, I agree, but we’ll sacrifice ring in the altar of right (not politically, of course). Happily.