Ellis Achong: 9 facts about the Chinaman who became a part of cricket lexicon

It is common knowledge that left-arm wrist-spin has been coined Chinaman after Ellis Edgar ‘Puss’ Achong, born February 16, 1904. Though Achong was, in all probability, not the inventor of the delivery, his name somehow made it to the lexicon of cricket, thanks to a conversation between Walter Robins and Learie Constantine. Achong, however, did not boast of a spectacular career, taking a mere 8 wickets from his 6 Tests at 47.25. In First-Class cricket he had slightly better numbers, with 110 wickets from 38 matches at 30.23. Abhishek Mukherjee recollects 9 facts about a bowler who lent his identity to cricket, but is mostly forgotten otherwise.

 1. Coining: The incident dates back to 1933, when Ivan Barrow and George Headley became the first two West Indians to score Test hundreds on English soil. After West Indies scored 375, England were in trouble of sorts, being reduced to 234 for 6 when Walter Robins joined his captain Douglas Jardine.

The pair added 140 when Achong ran in to bowl. He sent down an innocuous-looking delivery outside off. Robins stepped out for the big hit, but the ball spun back through Robins, and was stumped by a mile.

A bemused, disgruntled Robins cried out “Fancy getting out to a bloody Chinaman!” in disgust; he made no effort of hiding his outburst from umpire Joe Hardstaff Sr.

Learie Constantine, fighting English cricketers on field for Nelson and racism off it, was taken aback by the comment. He asked Robins: “Do you mean the bowler or the ball?”

And Chinaman was coined.

2. Was he the first to bowl Chinaman? Achong was probably not the first to bowl Chinaman at international level. That honour would probably go to ‘Buck’ Llewellyn, the coloured cricketer who mysteriously made it to the South African side in 1896, also experimented with left-arm wrist-spin.

Roy Kilner also sent in the occasional wrist-spin while bowling left-arm orthodox, as did Maurice Leyland. Both men were born before Achong, made their First-Class debuts before the West Indian, and also beat him to Test debuts (in fact, Kilner passed away from enteric fever at only 37, before Achong’s Test debut). ‘Chuck’ Fleetwood-Smith, marginally younger to Achong, also bowled Chinamen.

3. The first Chinese: Whether Achong was the first left-arm wrist-spinner in Test cricket is debatable, but there is no doubt that he was the first of Chinese origin. Herbert Chang, also of West Indies, is the only other known Test cricketer of Chinese descent. Douglas Sang-Hue (once again, a West Indian) did not play First-Class, but stood in 31 Tests.

4. The other sport: Born in Belmont (the first suburb of Port-of-Spain), Achong went to St Mary’s College, as did his West Indies teammate Clifford Roach.

Achong was originally a footballer for Maple Club (once again, he played alongside Roach). An ace left-winger, Achong played football for Trinidad & Tobago when he was only 15.

Gifted with an astute sporting brain, Achong went on to become Sports Coach with Trinidad & Tobago Ministry of Education in the 1950s and 1960s.

5. Replacing The Don: Achong got married and settled down in Manchester after the 1933 tour (though he later returned to Trinidad). He had an ordinary tour (71 First-Class wickets at 36.14, 5 Test wickets at 47.40), but Rochdale recruited his services for the Central Lancashire League.

Of course, this happened after their original Professional, a certain Don Bradman, had declared himself unavailable. Achong played for several clubs (chiefly Rochdale, Burnley, and Heywood) in Lancashire League till 1951.

6. That day at Todmorden: Burnley signed him up as Professional for Lancashire League in 1945 and 1946, and he paid back in style, taking 128 wickets at 11.43 across two seasons. His finest moment came at Centre Vale, Todmorden in 1945, when he took all ten wickets to bowl out the hosts for 114.

While this was no mean feat, Achong took 10 for 71, then the most expensive ten-wicket haul in the history of Lancashire League, ‘breaking’ the record set by Arthur Richardson (10 for 69), also of Burnley, in 1932.

It stood as a record till 1955, when Subhash Gupte took 10 for 101 for Rishton. Roy Gilchrist (10 for 75 for Bacup in 1962) is the only other bowler to concede more runs while taking all ten in a Lancashire League match.

7. The man in a hat: Before taking up crucial roles in the Trinidad Ministry, Achong stood as an umpire in the Queen’s Park Oval Test of 1953-54. The Test is remembered as one of only two occasions when all three Ws got hundreds: Everton Weekes scored 260, Frank Worrell 167, and Clyde Walcott 124.

Worrell and Walcott slammed fifties in the second innings as well, but perhaps a more interesting occurrence came when Walcott got Willie Watson, Denis Compton, and Tom Graveney in a spell of 34-18-52-3.

The Test was marred by poor umpiring from both Achong and Ken Woods. On one of these occasions, John Holt was caught by Graveney at slip off Denis Compton (also a Chinaman bowler).

Chris Waters wrote in Fred Trueman: The Authorised Biography: “Holt turned to go, then suddenly stopped as though he wasn’t sure what had happened. Having thought an appeal quite unnecessary, Compton asked Achong for a decision and was told ‘not out’.”

Graveney, in a rare fit of rage, yelled at Achong: “That’s the fourth f**king time you’ve cheated us!”

8. Honours: In 1997, Achong was inducted into the WITCO Sports Hall of Fame in Trinidad & Tobago. Hong Kong Cricket currently has an Ellis Achong Cup.

9. References: It is not always that you have an award-winning work of fiction named after an art of bowling, but Shehan Karunatilaka’s Chinaman was based on the mysterious disappearance (physically as well as from record books) of one Pradeep Matthew. As expected, there is a mention of Achong.

Cricket is certainly not the most popular sport in Luxembourg, but Wisden 2000 mentions a furious contest between three clubs, social, financial, and extra-terrestrial (?). Financial consisted of Flemings and Court of Auditors.

The Court of Auditors “boasted eight nationalities on one occasion, a genuine reflection of this cosmopolitan society.” One of them, a Danish translator at the European Parliament, claimed he was a grandson of Achong.

(Abhishek Mukherjee is the Chief Editor at CricketCountry. He blogs at ovshake.blogspot.com and can be followed on Twitter @ovshake42.)