Point of view: Chinaman is not the only politically incorrect term in cricket.
Point of view: Chinaman is not the only politically incorrect term in cricket.

“Why use a racial slur to describe a bowler’s action when ‘left-arm wrist-spinner’ is more descriptive anyway? We should stamp it out.” Thus read one of the several voices calling for abolition of the term ‘Chinaman’ from cricket.

Another opined: ‘the rest of the world knows that word as a dated, offensive, racial epithet’.

Yes, some argue linked to Ellis Achong, one of the pioneers of the curiously rare breed of left-arm wrist spinners, who bowled for West Indies and had some amount of Chinese ancestry in his blood. Achong also had a nickname that would make the sentinels of political correctness shudder: Puss.

There are some who have pointed out that the type of delivery and the word associated with it predates Achong, and specifically that the word was used in the English grounds in the 1920s, a good part of a decade before Achong plied his stuff. As B Sreeram has already pointed out to David Frith, and the celebrated historian subsequently to the ACS Journal that Hull Daily Mail of July 13, 1931 reported that in the Yorkshire vs Essex match at Headingley, Maurice Leyland had Stan Nichols caught by wicketkeeper Arthur Wood, the batsman chasing ‘Leyland’s Chinaman’. It was a couple of years before Achong supposedly foxed Walter Robins and the latter used the term for the first time. In fact, some credit old Yorkshire left-arm spinner Roy Kilner as the one to have coined the expression, and he died from enteric fever at the age of 38 in 1928 — five years before the Achong connection.

However, all that is beside the point. Achong or no Achong, the term has come to stay and according to many it has overstayed its times by several progressive decades.

The objections are not new. It is just that Kuldeep Yadav has surfaced as another once-in-a-blue-moon Test playing left-arm wrist spinner, and the hornet’s nest has been stirred anew. As early as in 1934, the Yorkshire Post did warn that such a term was offensive to the Chinese.

It may, therefore be a good idea to get rid of it in these sensitive times. And while we are at it, why stop at Chinaman? Why not cleanse cricket from every term that can be considered offensive under the microscope of political correctness.

We can keep the essence of Chinaman without making it sound dated and distasteful by using something more liberal like ‘Oriental-person’. That should take care of the racial slur as well as the thus far ignored gender-linked exclusiveness as well.

And taking a step further along these lines, with the Women’s World Cup just around the corner, there is no reason to keep using the extremely chauvinistic ‘batsman’. It is not that we are still stuck in the days when ladies were not permitted in the pavilion of Lord’s. So why continue to use such a sexist expression. Batsperson is definitely more acceptable.

Similarly, we have to extend the case for third-man. How many have thought about the plight of the ladies who are asked by their skippers to patrol the fine boundary on the off-side? If she comes running around the corner and tumbles to take an uppercut on the full to dismiss the most dangerous batsperson of the other side, would she like the commentator, stuck in the slurry sixties of Test Match Special, describing it as ‘A magnificent take by the third-man’? No, Third Man is only good as the title of the Graham Greene book or the associated movie Orson Welles made in the distant dark days of 1949. Let’s move on to third-person, equally accommodating to a ‘he’ or a ‘she’.

And what about ‘pair’? It is offensive in so many ways. Does one mean that the batsperson who fails to score in both the innings straps on a ‘pair’ or does one imply that he or she needs to do so? The term is derogative, to one half of the human race or the other, depending on the way one looks at it.

Besides, can no one see through the tongue in cheek male chauvinism that goes into the coinage of ‘maiden’? Really? An over that has not been ‘scored’ off by the batsperson, and you want to call that a ‘maiden’? Why not change it to ‘virgin’, and make it suited for the men as well?

While we are at it, please let us change ‘slip’ to ‘undergarment’. Just think how men would react to being described as a fielder standing in ‘briefs’.

We must admit, though, that some good things have taken place in cricket when we talk about sexual slurs. The ‘straight-hit-out-field’ is seldom used any more.

However, ‘straight bat’ is as old fashioned as the method of willow-work it describes. Straight is not necessarily perfect, we no longer persecute the Oscar Wildes of the society. The same goes for ‘straight drive’. It is limiting in cricketing thought as well.

The great Herbert Sutcliffe grasped the bat as if he intended to chop wood with the south-west corner, and met the ball with less than the full width when he played forward, his grip forcing his willow to face cover-point and the inside edge towards mid-on. CB Fry called him ‘The Hatchet Man’, while Ray Robinson observed that Sutcliffe’s bat reminded him of a twisted front tooth. But, it was certainly not a ‘gay’ batted defensive stroke that he specialised in. For your information, he scored more than 4,000 Test runs at 60.73. ‘Straight’ is neither politically correct nor undeniably better.

Carrying on about orientation, it is good that the official term for the style of bowling leg-break googly. However, one does hear the commentators and does read the cricket writers calling the one that turns the other way as ‘wrong ’un’. And can one even gauge the offensiveness of reverse-swing that implies ‘swinging the other way’? The Chinaman is not the only delivery that has got the wrong coinage.

Incidentally, coming back to the Chinaman, the Chinese are certainly not the only race vilified by cricketing terms. What about gully? A fielding position that was created during the turn of the last century, during the height of the British Raj, and therefore carries with it the unflattering slight directed towards the colonies, even in the Jewel in the Crown. Gully is an Indian word, meaning an unremarkable, unflattering narrow passage. Guys and gals, the powerhouse of world cricket is no longer the smug ivory towers of MCC and its Long Room at Lord’s. Get over the colonial hangover and rename it Throughway or Lane or Artery.

Let us dwell a bit more on fielding positions. Short-leg? Are you kidding me? In this day and age, when from Selena Gomez to Britney Spears every celebrity has taken up the cause against body-shaming? Let me remind you that even Lady Gaga posted on her Instagram account, “I am proud of my body and you should be too.”

Beside, forward short-leg has a very suggestive connotation to it. On second thought, so does backward short-leg, a more humiliating one. Think of something a little less offensive, please. Advanced (or rear-vertically impaired) limb or something similar along these modern lines, perhaps.

And what about long-leg and fine-leg? One may perhaps think that there is nothing disparaging in these. However, these are the very usages that promote negative body image among kids and teenagers these days, leading to conditions like marasmus and anorexia. It is not at all wise to place a de-jure authority figure at square leg and have glamorous, complimentary names attached to fields-persons wandering blissfully in the country.

Finally, please… Does one want pitches to be dug up in protest in the very financial epicentre of the game? Call a slog a slog and deep widish mid-wicket a deep widish mid-wicket. What is all that about the extremely insensitive cow-shot and cow-corner? Why not deer-corner or kangaroo-corner or Scottish highlander? Why should a batsperson not clout the ball with a cross bat into that part of the ground?

No, the game can do with some serious rework on the lexicographic front.