In the previous Test at Durban, South Africa had clawed their way back into the series after England had won the first two. Applying a strategy of suffocation, 184 runs had been allowed on the first day, with the uncannily accurate Hugh Tayfield sealing all run making outlets along with Trevor Goddard at the other end. Tayfield had gone about bowling 137 scoreless deliveries on the trot — 119 in the first innings followed by 18 in the second.
In the first innings, untiring and metronomic, the off-spinner had sent down 27-eight ball overs for 21 runs, picking up one wicket. In the second innings, he had floated the ball into the breeze, drifting it away and breaking it back — capturing eight for 69 from 37.1 overs. It had set the record for the best bowling figures ever achieved by a South African, and had left the home team 190 to win in four hours and ten minutes. They had been pegged back by the loss of early wickets and had finished on 142 for six. England had managed to hold on to the 2-0 lead, but the momentum had definitely shifted.
In the fourth Test at Johannesburg, Tayfield improved upon his Durban effort, rewriting the South African record yet again.
The seesaw battle
England-South Africa Tests have often produced edge-of-the-seat thrillers and this match was one of the very best. The fortunes swung, back and forth, the match finally hung in tottering balance, all four results were possible as the last session started on the final day.
The last day had begun with England requiring 213 runs to take an unbeatable 3-0 lead in the series, nine wickets in hand. It ended with Tayfield being chaired from the ground, proudly borne on the shoulders of his ecstatic mates.
South Africa had gained the upper hand in the initial exchanges, with the ever-reliable Doug Insole surprisingly missing Roy McLean in the slips. The hard-hitting McLean had made merry, scoring 93 in a first innings total of 340.
When England replied, Tayfield and Goddard executed their strangulating tandem once again. Goddard, who had scored 67 as an opening batsman, dried up the runs with his nagging left arm medium-pace, and also ran Insole out with remarkable reflexes from the slips. Tayfield, was slightly ‘expensive’ going by his stingy-Scrooge standards, and ended with four for 79 from 37 overs. Goddard was not nearly as generous, his figures reading 25.2-15-22-1. One must bear in mind that these were long overs stretching across eight balls. A batsman of Denis Compton’s ability was made to struggle for runs, crawling to 13 in two-and-half hours before Tea on the third day, before falling for 42 scored over 205 minutes. After the first essay, England trailed by 89.
The advantage was soon neutralised, when Trevor Bailey responded with some excellent accurate medium-pace, choking the runs to a trickle.In a bid to make up for lost time, the South Africans lost wickets in a flurry. Only Goddard, continuing to have an excellent match, made 49. By the end of the fourth evening, England had lost Bailey to Tayfield and required 34 runs an hour on the last day.
Tayfield the Tireless
The visitors started the last day fully aware of the constraining tactics of the South Africans. Doug Insole and Peter Richardson attacked from the start and quickly added 55 in just 72 minutes.
Tayfield, having taken some punishment from these bold methods, got one through the defence of Richardson, but Colin Cowdrey looked in good touch. Turning the ball with the spin, with some excellent placement on the on-side, Cowdrey looked increasingly likely to carry England to victory. Insole was solid at the other end. Twenty-five minutes after lunch, England seemed to have the game wrapped up at 147 for two, another 85 needed to win, the partnership already worth 82 in just 101 minutes.
This was when Goddard provided the crucial breakthrough, and remarkably it was Tayfield who held the catch of Insole. Thus, he had a hand in every dismissal, and in this one he had two.
Tayfield now placed close in-fielders in his trademark curious fashion, two short mid-ons with shoulders more or less touching each other, and sometimes appending them with two short covers as well. With four men waiting for the uppish push or drive, pressure mounted on the batsmen. With his phenomenal accuracy, Tayfield could afford this field — with hardly any opportunity for the batsman to manoeuvre the ball into the wide gaps. Additionally, a large gap was maintained in the extra cover region, temptingly left open as the balls were floated up to the batsman, encouraging a mistimed drive. Not a big turner of the ball, Tayfield almost brushed the stumps as he bowled, with subtle variations of angle, the ball mostly drifting away and breaking back, and sometimes going straight through.
The ploy worked to perfection. Peter May, the scourge of a spinner as great as Sonny Ramadhin, hit one into the band of fielders close in front of the wicket — which Arthur Mailey dubbed “The Gate”. Denis Compton followed in the same way, the two great names managing a single between them. At 156 for five, it was anyone’s game.
Johnny Wardle came in and played some fine attacking strokes. At the other end, Cowdrey was fighting on, excellent of technique and impeccable in temperament. At Tea, the game was still wide open with 46 runs required and four wickets in hand.
Tayfield had bowled without a break from the morning, but that did not bother him. The balls continued to pitch in the exact spots where he willed them to. At 186, Wardle tried a stroke too many and snicked to John Waite behind the stumps. Running out of partners, Cowdrey now opened up and struck a well-timed six. And then, after 200 minutes of resistance, he tried to drive Tayfield and lobbed a catch back to the bowler.
The end arrived when Peter Loader aimed for glory, and skied one to long on. Arthur Tayfield, substituting for Ken Funston, took the catch off the bowling of his brother.England ended at 214, giving the South Africans the Test by 17 runs.
Tayfield, who had bowled unchanged from the beginning of the day, had sent down 35 overs in four hours and 40 minutes. His final figures were 37-11-113-9. As usual, before every over he had gone over the ritual of kissing his cap before handing it over to the umpire. Before every ball, his toes had been stubbed on the ground — mannerisms that were as much a part of his rhythm as the flight and turn.
It was a remarkable achievement, more so because the match involved spinners of the calibre of Jim Laker and Johnny Wardle, and the two of them managed just six wickets between them across two innings.
In the following Test at Port Elizabeth, as England chased an even lower target of 189, Tayfield picked up six for 78 to stop them at 130. At the other end, Trevor Goddard played his role to perfection, bowling 18 miserly overs and finishing with two 12. The series was tied 2-2.Tayfield finished with 37 wickets in the five Tests at 17.18.
In 2001, Tayfield’s Johannesburg feat was honoured by Wisden as the best in a Test innings. According to the panellists, the effort ranked above even Jim Laker’s 10 wicket haul at Manchester in 1956.
Brief Scores: South Africa 340 (Trevor Goddard 67, John Waite 61, Roy McLean 93) and 142 (Trevor Goddard 49) beat England 251 ( Doug Insole 47, Peter May 61, Denis Compton 42; Hugh Tayfield 4 for 79) and 214 (Dough Insole 68, Colin Cowdrey 55; Hugh Tayfield 9 for 113) by 17 runs.
(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/senantix)
First Published: February 20, 2013, 11:20 am