“Because, apart from the stubbing of the toe and kissing of the badge of the cap, Tayfield had another habit. Somewhat annoying for the opponents. Of pulling off incredible wins, almost magical”
It was not really a turner. As Arthur Mailey put it some years later, it was a perfect batsman’s pitch in Melbourne.
South Africa under Jack Cheetham were already one down in the series. They were rather unfancied against the strong outfit led by Lindsay Hassett, with names like Arthur Morris, Neil Harvey, Keith Miller, Ray Lindwall, Bill Johnston and others in their midst. Some of the not-so-famous-yet cricketers in that 1952-53 line up would go on to become formidable figures, such as Richie Benaud and Colin McDonald.
With Miller and Lindwall making the batsmen hop, the South Africans could only manage 227 in the first innings. And when Morris and McDonald had already put on 80 for the first wicket, things did look a trifle bleak for the visitors.
However, then there was Hugh Tayfield.
A tall dark and handsome off-spinner, he kissed the badge of his cap every time he handed it to the umpire. And then, during this very Test, he developed the habit of stubbing his toe on the ground before running in to bowl. He held on to this idiosyncrasy all his life, enough to get the nickname ‘Toey’.
The field to which he bowled was also as eccentric. Four men stood in a gate of sorts, halfway down the pitch. Two on the offside, very short mid-offs, two on the leg, very short mid-ons. Tayfield invited the batsmen to drive as he teased them with his flight.
Some tried to have a go and failed. Morris hit one back. Harvey, Hassett, Miller were caught in the infield. Benaud was bowled. The pin-point accuracy was too much for Doug Ring and poor Johnston. Tayfield finished with 6 for 84, but Australia sneaked ahead by 16.
Russel Endean hit 162 not out in the second innings, and the South Africans amassed a massive 388 in the second innings. And from the fourth afternoon, Tayfield was at it again. Four men in a gate, and as Mailey lamented “The Australian batsmen had forgotten the art of driving half-volleys.”
He was being too harsh on the batsmen. Tayfield was generally impossible to hit. The final two days saw him impossible to play. Hassett surrendered after missing the line, Harvey was caught in that gate, Miller, Langley and Hole were bowled, Benaud and Ring drove hard but got as far as that gate.
7 for 81. 13 wickets in the match. The series was squared.
He did not always have a pair of gates in the field, but the others that he set were not less eccentric. He often left a huge gap on the offside, without anyone from point to mid-off. And then there were two short-midwickets, with their shoulders almost brushing each other.
This worked for him.
Because, apart from the stubbing of the toe and kissing of the badge of the cap, Tayfield had another habit. Somewhat annoying for the opponents. Of pulling off incredible wins, almost magical.
For example, the two feats in Johannesburg and Port Elizabeth against Peter May’s men, coming back from 0-2 down to draw the series against the most formidable of sides. Mind you, in the England side there was Jim Laker, the off-spinner who had just that summer vanquished the Australians singlehandedly. But Tayfield won the Johannesburg match on his own, his 9 for 113 stopping England 17 short in a thriller. And then at Port Elizabeth, as the Mays, Cowdreys and Comptons walked out to get 189 to take the series 3-1, Tayfield returned with 6 for 78 off 24.3 overs, bowling them out for 130.
The series was 2-2. Laker did not do too badly, capturing 11 wickets at 29.45. Johnny Wardle, bowling a lot of them from the back of his hand, took 26. But Tayfield was the daddy of them all, 37 wickets at 17 apiece.
It was not the first time he had tied England in knots. When the South Africans had visited Ole Blighty in 1955, he had captured 26 wickets at 21.84, including a match-winning 9-wicket haul at Headingley.
He captured 170 wickets in his career, in 37 Tests, at 25.91 apiece. Besides, he was stingy, almost miserly. Runs trickled at 1.94 off his bowling. When Trevor Goddard, another Scrooge in flannels, operated alongside him for South Africa, the opposition could hardly breathe, let alone score runs.
Tayfiled was a useful batsman as well, always difficult to get out. He scored two half-centuries in Tests, and averaged a decent 17.
Off the field, he shed his disciplined, miserly image. Tall, dark and handsome, he had a way with women and married and divorced five times.
Hugh Tayfield was born on this day, January 30, 1929. One of the best off-spinners ever.