Guyana possesses cricket's rare 'Chinaman'
Till now, the only real Chinese connection with cricket has been the term used to describe left-arm wrist spinners commonly referred to as 'chinamen'. Legend has it that the expression was coined in 1933, when the Englishman Walter Robbins, after being dismissed by the former West Indian spinner Ellis Chong, a cricketer of Chinese origin, is said to have exclaimed, "Imagine being bowled by a... Chinaman!"
Over 75 years later, with his distinctive name and looks, Guyana's Jonathan Foo might well become the second 'Chinaman' to be launched internationally at the Champions League T20, presently under way in South Africa.
And yet, his Chinese origin is exactly what the 19-year-old right-hand batsman from Berbice doesn't like to talk much about.
"My friends keep teasing me about being Chinese all the time, but I keep telling them that I am Indian because I take more after my mother," says Foo, who was born to Derek, of Chinese descent, and Mary Chinsammy, whose ancestors hailed from India.
So, does the description "half-Guyanese, half-Indian with a Chinese name" sit well with him? "That's perfect," he says in an unmistakable Caribbean accent, and adds, "But my two sisters, who are younger to me, have managed to find a middle ground."
Foo's paternal grandparents hailed from China, while his father was born in Guyana. But growing up in a village where Indians were the majority, and the fact that he was always close to his mother, have ensured that the slightly-built cricketer has always remained an Indian at heart.
"My father was the only Chinese guy in the whole village. He used to play a little bit of cricket himself but was never too keen a follower before I took up the sport," says Foo, who has so far played four T20 games for Guyana in the regional competition.
His grandparents, who are now settled in New York and visit once every six months, remain illiterate about Foo's beloved sport, despite the teenager's many attempts to educate them.
"They keep asking if I have ever seen another Chinese cricketer," he says. "And then they insist that I should rather be cooking in a Chinese restaurant!"
It was Andy and Michael Chinsammy, Foo's maternal uncles, who shaped his cricketing career taking the boy along for their practice sessions, and providing him with cricket gear at the beginning of his career.
"Both of them played first-class cricket for Guyana, and Under-19 for the West Indies. They used to wake me up at 5.30 in the morning and drag me to the ground. I used to hate waking up that early and they took me along for six or seven years straight. It is paying dividends now," says Foo, who has had the privilege of playing with his childhood idol and fellow Guyanese Carl Hooper for the same club, Albion, back home.
But it isn't just his Chinese ancestry that makes Foo a special youngster. After Foo made headlines during the regional T20 tournament in the West Indies with his big hitting and fielding, Guyana skipper Ramnaresh Sarwan declared he could be the next Kieron Pollard the star of the last Champions League.
But Foo doesn't want to put pressure on himself right now. And he says playing Test cricket for the West Indies is his ultimate goal.
"There has been a lot of talk about me being the next Pollard. But I don't want to stick to just T20. Test cricket is what I am dreaming of."
But is Foo looking forward to becoming the first player of Chinese descent to play in the IPL in the near future? "Oh yes," he says. "Everyone wants to play in the IPL. One good tournament here, and who knows."