The Inscrutable Master: Hugh Tayfield

Published: 2022
Pages: 58
Author: Misra, Sanjit
Publisher: Austin Macauley
Rating: 2 stars

When it comes to the great South African off spinner Sanjit Misra is far from the first man to fall under his spell. In fact so fascinated by Tayfield is Misra that he felt the need to write his story, or at least some of it, an observation that I make because when it comes to Hugh Tayfield and his life outside cricket ‘Inscrutable’ is, most definitely, the word.

There can be no doubt but that Tayfield was a fine bowler, and Misra has done a decent job in telling the story of the highs and lows of an international career that began at the age of 20 at home against Australia in 1949/50, and ended not much more than a decade later at the end of the Springboks’ 1960 tour of England. In between there were 170 wickets at 25.91, and 124 of those came at just 20.85 between 1952 and 1957.

Misra has clearly read a great deal on the subject of Tayfield’s bowling, and he gives his reader a good explanation of the style, technique and idiosyncrasies of that. There follows an explanation as to how Tayfield’s international career progressed, and descriptions of its many highs and occasional lows.

No one has, to my knowledge anyway, ever published a detailed account of Tayfield’s life, let alone a full biography and even in purely cricketing terms there is little, Tayfield not even featuring in the old ACS Famous Cricketers series of booklets.

Which is a great shame because, from what does swirl around cricket history about Tayfield he would be a fascinating subject for a biography. As an opponent he was certainly deeply unpopular. To cite just one example, his fellow off spinner Jim Laker said of him, after duly noting his excellence as a bowler, as a person I have less to say for him; he is not the sort of person I want to have any contact with.

Sadly players of that era, Laker apart, generally preferred to say nothing about a teammate/opponent who they did not like and there is therefore limited material available, although we do also know that Tayfield was married and divorced five times, that he had business troubles and crossed swords with both the civil and criminal courts. Disappointingly the detail of all of these parts of his life remain elusive.

One thing that is known for certain is that both before the end of, and subsequent to his Test career, Tayfield did some journalistic work. He was certainly in Australia in 1958/59 and 1963/64 for the Australians’ series against England and South Africa. I believe he may also have been in Australia in 1982/83, and possibly then played a role in the recruitment of cricketers for rebel tours? His articles on the 58/59 Ashes, for UK tabloid The Daily Herald certainly pulled no punches, but at least they can be read and do give some insights into Tayfield’s personality.

Misra takes the view, not unreasonably I suppose, that in the the absence of verifiable information on Tayfield’s ‘extra-curricular activities’ it is not appropriate for him to speculate. His reader is left therefore with a good account of Tayfield the cricketer but, regrettably, nothing of substance about Tayfield the man.

So this one is something of a missed opportunity. I remain confident however that somewhere out there there are primary sources that will one day provide the basis for a top drawer biography of Hugh Tayfield, and maybe when he has the time Misra will try and find them and revisit his subject. That will doubtless take a while however, and until then The Inscrutable Master: Hugh Tayfield at least provides an appreciation of a very fine bowler, albeit a rather perfunctory one.

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