From left: Inshan Ali, Bernard Julien, Roy Fredericks © Getty Images
From left: Inshan Ali, Bernard Julien, Roy Fredericks © Getty Images

With the English batsmen proving clueless against the left-arm wrist spin of Kuldeep Yadav, Arunabha Sengupta documents the past and present exponents of the art of the Chinaman (oops, left-arm wrist spin) in international cricket. In this episode he covers some West Indian names that did not quite scale the highest peaks of left-arm wrist spin.

He was one of those fire-breathing fast bowlers Sunil Gavaskar conquered in his debut series of 1970-71.

Well, not really. Inshan Ali was one of the bowlers Gavaskar encountered in that series. And like the rest of them, he was plain mediocre.

It is deeply etched in the mythology of Indian cricket that the bowlers Gavaskar encountered in that debut tour were terrifying West Indian pacemen. They were actually anything but terrifying. Pace was on offer only from Uton Dowe, and his 5-Test career saw him send down so many ordinary balls that a commandment was coined ‘Dowe Shalt Not Bowl’. There were other men who were just as obscure or out of form. Inshan was one of them.

A left-arm wrist spinner from Trinidad, Inshan made his debut in the 1971 series against India, and played off and on till 1977. He did have some memorable days, for example when he captured his only 5-wicket haul in Tests, against New Zealand on his home ground at Port-of-Spain. But by and large, he was one of those also-rans, looking a curious misfit with his slight figure as Clive Lloyd’s philosophy of pace saw more and more big fast men stride through their long run ups.

Inshan was good at the First-Class level, and made his debut for Trinidad at 16. But, the Test world proved to be too difficult to make a mark. His 34 Test wickets cost 47.67. 

He played club cricket well into his forties before cancer claimed him at the young age of 45.

Two other West Indians did bowl some left-arm wrist-spin, but only occasionally.

Bernard Julien, a flamboyant right-handed hitter and left-arm medium pacer who could be lively at times, also experimented with wrist-spin. His main claim to fame rests with one vigorous partnership of 231 with Garry Sobers at Lord’s, and for many he remained the poor man’s Sobers before his career ended with a life ban resulting from a rebel tour to South Africa. Like Sobers, he bowled a few Chinaman deliveries as well, with limited success.

Roy Fredericks was more famed as an electrifying opening batsman, whose furious 169 at Perth is still talked about. The image of his falling on his wicket while hooking Dennis Lillee out of the ground during the first World Cup final lingers on.

He bowled occasionally, and not with a lot of success, but his preferred style was left-arm wrist-spin. He did pick up 7 wickets in Tests, at the high cost of 78.28 apiece. He was considerably more successful in First-Class cricket, with 75 wickets at 37.94.

Like Inshan Ali, Fredericks died from cancer, at the age of 58.