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Charles Rowe © Getty Images

May 30, 1980. With the County Championship match between Kent and Sussex petering out to a draw, off-spinner Charles Rowe did something rarely witnessed on cricket ground, at least at First-Class level. Abhishek Mukherjee recalls some strange goings-on at Hove.

Recently, Tim Wigmore wrote an insightful piece on ambidextrous bowling in The Cricket Monthly. While Yasir Jan, Akshay Karnewar, Kamindu Mendis, and Shaila Sharmin are well-known, Jemma Barsby came as a revelation. Perhaps these cricketers will emerge as all-rounders of a new kind (obviously, not in limited-overs cricket). John Buchanan was perhaps too ahead of his times.

These, of course, are not the first group of cricketers to have bowled with either hand. The most famous instance of this was Muhammad Naeem during the 2000 Under-15 World Challenge Final at Lord’s. He had figures of 7-0-34-0 as West Indies U-15s chased down 176.

There was an instance in World Cup cricket too: at Kandy in 1996, Hashan Tillakaratne three balls of the last over of the match left-handed before the switch. However, Kenya needed 149 when Tillakaratne was asked to bowl.

When Garry Sobers was on 364 (in other words, one short of breaking Len Hutton’s world record), Hanif Mohammad decided to throw in a bit of surprise. In The Unquiet Ones, Osman Samiuddin narrates Sobers’ version: “Hanif, not a bowler of note, asked the umpire if he could bowl left-handed as I needed just one run for the record. I said it was all right and he could bowl with both hands if he wished.” That was in 1957-58.

Note: Hanif probably took a leaf out of Lala Amarnath’s book. Back in 1947-48, when Don Bradman was one short of his hundredth First-Class hundred, Amarnath got Gogumal Kishenchand (who had never bowled in front of Bradman till then). Not that it mattered, but it was a try nevertheless.

According to Ken Williams, Chuck Fleetwood-Smith used to be an ambidextrous bowler in his younger days, till his right arm was fractured. He subsequently bowled only left-arm and emerged as a Chinaman bowler who turned the ball the proverbial mile.

However, it later transpired that he liked misguiding journalists. He even misinformed them about his year of birth. Whether he bowled right-arm, thus, remains a matter of speculation.

There have also been instances of Graham Gooch bowling left-arm. Sameer Nayak of UAE had made news earlier this year before the Indoor Cricket World Cup. None of them, however, had quite managed to emulate Charles Rowe, currently President of Kent County Cricket Club.

Who is Charles Rowe?

Born in Hong Kong, Rowe had a decent career for Kent and Glamorgan as a batsman who bowled a bit of off-spin. He scored a thousand runs in both 1978 (for Kent) and 1982 (for Glamorgan). His birthplace enabled him to play for Hong Kong as well. For them, he once routed Singapore with 6 for 46.

Rowe was by no means a specialist bowler, for his 175 First-Class matches fetched a mere 128 wickets (though he took 6 for 46 against Derbyshire and 7 for 22 against Essex Second XI). Rowe later moved on to a career in finance.

The match

Our match dates back to 1980, during Rowe’s stint for Kent. Sussex were bowled out for 189 at Hove. Kent replied with 330 after a duel between Bob Woolmer (171) and Imran Khan (6 for 80). Sussex were reduced to 46 for 3 on the third afternoon, but Imran, Paul Phillipson, and Colin Wells saved the day for them.

Sussex were in no mood to declare despite a big lead. As the match meandered to a draw, Kent used eight bowlers. Rowe was the eighth.

Rowe started by bowling out Geoff Arnold. There was nothing unusual about that. John Spencer, No. 10 (and captain), and Chris Waller, No. 11, batted along. They added 25, ensuring Kent did not have to bat again.

Rowe decided to go switch to bowling Chinaman for the last ball of his tenth over. He had, after all, bowled both off-breaks and Chinamen in school cricket.

It landed somewhat around the middle of the pitch. Waller’s eyes lit up. He went for an almighty heave, but as has often been the case with No. 11s, he did not time it all. Woolmer caught him at cover.

“It was the only ball I bowled in First-Class cricket with my left arm and it was a long hop,” Rowe later told Stephen Brenkley of The Independent. “The batsman hit it in the air to cover where it was caught. So I’ve got a 100 per cent record with my left hand.”

It remains the only known instance of a bowler picking up wickets bowling both right-handed and left-handed at First-Class level.

Brief scores:

Sussex 189 (Kevin Jarvis 3 for 46, Richard Hills 3 for 27) and 408 (Timothy Booth Jones 51, Imran Khan 82, Paul Phillipson 64, Colin Wells 87; Richard Hills 3 for 70) drew with Kent 330 (Bob Woolmer 171; Imran Khan 6 for 80).