As he walked back to the pavilion, Robins reportedly said to the umpire Joe Hardstaff Sr, "fancy being done by a bloody Chinaman!” This incident was the first recorded use of the term in Test matches.
Leg-spin is thought to be one of the most difficult skills to master in cricket. Also from a batsman's point of view, it is never easy to face a leg-spinner on the ground. Cricket records support the fact. Two of the three leading wicket-takers in Test cricket (Shane Warne and Anil Kumble) are leg-spinners. Leg-spin has always been the mystery that has long been cherished as an "art" in the sport. It is very rare to find good leg-spinners, let alone once in a generation type "great" ones.
However, when left armers take up leg-spin, apparently the mystery element goes up a notch. For the last century or so, left arm leg spinners have been rare. The first account of such a bowler came under lights in the late nineteenth century. Buck Llewellyn, a South African cricketer who played his first Test in 1896 against England, was recorded as the first cricketer to bowl a left-handed delivery which pitched on off stump and turned towards leg.
Llewellyn played 15 Test matches for South Africa, the last of which came in 1912. However, all through his Test career he was recognized as a left arm-orthodox, not a left-arm leg-spinner.
The man who gave the left-arm spin some sort of identity was Chuck Fleetwood-Smith. He was ambidextrous and could bowl with either arm during his youth. But he caught the eye for his left arm leg-spin for the Australian Test team in the 1930s. He played 10 matches for the national side and took part in the 1936/37 Ashes series.
Interestingly, the term "Chinaman" now alternatively used with left-arm leg-spin came into use around the same time. Ellis Achong playing for the West Indies was the first Test cricketer of Chinese origin. His bowling gave birth to the coinage "Chinaman" in Test cricket.
Achong played six Test matches for the Windies from 1930 to 1935. He bowled left-arm leg-spin and there is a popular story behind his bowling being termed "Chinaman".
In 1933, West Indies was facing England at Old Trafford. West Indies scored 375 and England were in trouble after being reduced to 234 for 6, when Walter Robins joined captain Douglas Jardine.
Jardine and Robins had a partnership of 140 and it seemed like England were digging their way out of that tricky situation. At that time, Achong came to bowl. He bowled an ordinary looking delivery outside the off stump. Robins stepped out for the big hit, but the ball spun back through Robins' legs, and he was stumped by a mile.
As he walked back to the pavilion, Robins reportedly said to the umpire Joe Hardstaff Sr, "fancy being done by a bloody Chinaman!" This incident was the first recorded use of the term in Test matches.
According to records, two Yorkshire bowlers bowled a delivery which was dubbed "Chinaman" earlier than Achong's left arm leg-spinners. An article posted in the Guardian in 1929 records that Yorkshire County leg-spin bowler Abe Waddington playing for Accrington got one of his wickets in a ball called "T'Chinaman"
The term "Chinaman" was however not used for the first time in 1933. Another Yorkshireman Roy Kilner made that term somewhat relevant during his career in the English counties.
British newspaper The Guardian reported in a 2017 article about "Chinaman" that Kilner's team-mate Arthur Mitchell told the Yorkshire Post about in 1948:
"We first heard of it when Roy Kilner began turning his wrist over and making the ball turn from the off. Up to then, Yorkshire's left-handers had been orthodox spinners or seam bowlers. A name had to be found for it, and I suppose it seemed that 'Chinaman' was as good a name as anything."
The term, however, was not without controversy. In that era, a man of Chinese origin would be referred to as "Chinaman". It was also used to describe people of Japanese origin. According to The Guardian report, Yorkshire Post later explained to its readers that the term is derogatory "The Chinese … regard the word 'Chinaman' as derogatory, and it should, therefore, be avoided." In cricket, the article explained, the word referred to "a ball of oriental cunning".
For the next 80 years or so, the term was used vicariously to describe left-handed leg-spin bowlers like Paul Adams of South Africa, and Michael Bevan and Brad Hogg of Australia. 21st-century bowlers like Sri Lanka's Lakshan Sandakan and India's Kuldeep Yadav were also not spared from the term "Chinaman".
This vacillating term came under a lot of heat in 2018 when an Australian journalist Andrew Wu tweeted "My challenge to cricket: get racially offensive terminology out of the game." Wu, of Chinese origin, deemed the term "offensive" after it was used repeatedly for Indian left-arm leg-spinner Kuldeep Yadav in his debut Test match against Australia.
In 2018 Wisden, often considered as "Cricket's Bible" banned the term "Chinaman" to describe slow left-arm wrist-spin bowlers, after it was deemed "offensive".
After almost 90 years of those early incidents of the use of the term "Chinaman", cricket has evolved a lot. Now, it is considered a game without biases and inequalities. Cricket guide books and lawmakers have started shifting towards using gender-neutral terminologies such as "fielder" instead of "fieldsman". A "whitewash" is now more often a "clean sweep". So it is obvious that cricket will steer itself away from using terms such as the "Chinaman" for the foreseeable future. Whether the fans and viewers circumvent it, remains to be seen.