TAYFIELD, HUGH JOSEPH, who died in hospital at Durban on February 25, 1994, aged 65, was the most successful bowler yet produced by South Africa and one of the greatest off-spinners the game has seen. Between 1949-50 and 1960 he took 170 wickets in Tests at a cost of 25.91 in 37 matches. Tayfield took more wickets per Test match (4.59) then either Jim Laker or Lance Gibbs (4.19 and 3.91), and though he was not in Laker's class as a spinner of the ball, he was exceptionally accurate and could bowl all day without wavering. He preferred to bowl over the wicket, extremely close to the stumps, which gave him the perfect angle for the ball to drift away and break back.
Though his variations were subtle, his field settings were often flamboyantly unorthodox, with a large, tempting, gap around extra cover but two straightish silly mid-ons waiting for the mistimed shot. Tayfield was, with Trevor Goddard, at the centre of South Africa's containing cricket of the 1950s; he bowled 137 consecutive balls without conceding a run against England at Durban in 1956-57.
But, with South Africa's superb fielding to back him up, he ran through teams as well: he took 37 wickets that series at 17.18, including nine for 113 in the second innings of the Fourth Test at Johannesburg, when he bowled unchanged on the last day and sent down 35 eight-ball overs; the longer he bowled the more inhibited England's batsmen became. Tayfield was chaired off the field.
The Tayfields were a cricketing family: Hugh's uncle S. H. Martin played for Worcestershire and his brothers Arthur and Cyril both played for Transvaal, as did two cousins. It was Arthur, as substitute, who took the final catch to seal the Johannesburg triumph. Hugh first appeared for Natal as a 17-year old in 1945-46. At 18, he took a hat-trick against Transvaal and in 1949-50 was drafted into the Test team against Australia when Athol Rowan was injured. He played in all five Tests and, on a sticky wicket at Durban, took seven for 23 when Australia crashed from 31 for no wicket to 75 all out ( South Africa did not enforce the follow-on and Neil Harvey won the match for Australia). He was summoned late to England in 1951 as standby for Rowan, but did not enhance his reputation.
It was in Australia, in 1952-53, as the attacking linchpin of Jack Cheetham's young side that stunned Australia by halving the series, that he moved into the front rank. Tayfield took 30 wickets, 13 of them at Melbourne to secure South Africa's first win over Australia in 42 years. In England in 1955, Tayfield took 143 wickets on the tour and 26 in the series.
He took nine wickets in South Africa's victory at Headingley. At The Oval, when South Africa lost the deciding Test, he returned figures of 53.4-29-60-5. The Times said the batsmen treated him as respectfully as if he were a bishop on a diocesan visit. After his triumphs in 1956-57 his good days became less frequent. In England in 1960 he took 123 wickets on the tour but failed in the Tests; in 1961-62 he lost his place.
Tall and good-looking, he was an imposing figure in the 1950s, and something of a playboy. His later years were spent largely in shadow. He married and divorced five times. He was reported to have had a difficult time in business and was ill for some years before his death. Tayfield played 37 Tests and his 170 wickets came at 25.91 each; in first-class cricket his total was 864 at 21.86. He scored 862 Test runs at 16.90, and took 26 catches - he was one of South Africa's best fielders himself. He was known as Toey because before every delivery he stubbed his toes into the ground, a mannerism that became essential to his rhythm. Before each over, he would also kiss the badge on his cap before handing it to the umpire.