Peel in the (posed) act of delivery
12 February 1857|
Churwell, Yorkshire, England
|Died||12 August 1941
Morley, West Yorkshire, England
|Batting style||Left-handed batsman|
|Bowling style||Slow left-arm orthodox|
Robert "Bobby" Peel (12 February 1857– 12 August 1941) was a Yorkshire and England cricketer: a left-arm spinner who ranks as one of the finest bowlers of the 1890s. He was also a capable batsman, who once hit 210 not out (out of a record County Championship total of 887 against Warwickshire). He was also first player in Test cricket history to have been dismissed four times in succession without scoring (in 1894/1895).
Peel was born in Churwell, a village close to Morley, on 12 February 1857. From the age of 25, Peel was playing regularly for the Churwell cricket team, and by 1882 was part of the Yorkshire Colts team. At the time, Ted Peate was the first-choice left-arm spinner in the Yorkshire team, and his presence restricted Peel's opportunities for many years. Later in the 1882 season, an injury to Peate allowed Peel to make his made his first-class debut for Yorkshire against Surrey. Peel took nine wickets in the game, including five for 83 (five wickets taken while conceding 83 runs) in the second innings. The match was drawn,  but his captain, Lord Hawke, later described Peel's debut as one of the most impressive for Yorkshire.
Despite the continued presence of Peate in the Yorkshire team, Peel played regularly between 1883 and 1886. Peel played a junior role, and his bowling was used sparingly; in five seasons he took 163 wickets for Yorkshire, and he only took over 50 first-class wickets in a season once before 1887. His obituary in Wisden Cricketers' Almanack in 1942 stated: "Yorkshire were singularly rich in bowling talent, so that [Peel] had to wait several years before attaining real distinction". Peel retained his place, however, through his ability as a batsman and fielder, which allowed Yorkshire to include him alongside Peate. Occasionally, he was successful with the ball, for example taking eleven for 87 in the match against Gloucestershire in 1884—a match in which Peate did not play. While he generally achieved little as a bowler in the period, Peel's batting average gradually improved until it reached the mid-20s in 1887.
During the English winter of 1884–85, Peel was included in the team which toured Australia under the management of Alfred Shaw, Arthur Shrewsbury and James Lillywhite. English teams that toured Australia at this time were not usually composed exclusively of the best cricketers in England. The previous English tour Australia had been organised by amateur cricketers, and the team consisted mainly of amateurs. The 1884–85 English team, like earlier tours, contained only professional cricketers; less usually, the team was strong and contained nine players who would have been in a full-strength England side. Critics considered it a powerful team, but much of the cricket was overshadowed by off-field clashes with the Australian team led by Billy Murdoch that had toured England in 1884; the disputes mainly concerned the proportion of money raised at the grounds which went to each team. Peel was required to bowl a large number of overs; in minor matches, mainly played against the odds (where the opposition teams included more players than the English team), he took 321 wickets at an average of less than five. In first-class matches, he was the leading wicket-taker with 35 wickets, but his average of 19.22 was relatively high.
During the tour, Peel made his Test debut and played all five Test matches. In the first Test, he scored four runs in his only innings. With the ball, he opened the bowling in both innings and took eight wickets in the match; in the second innings, he took five for 51 on a pitch affected by rain. He was less effective in the remainder of the series; he took six wickets in the second Test but only seven in the remaining three Tests. He ended the series with 21 wickets at an average of 21.47, and scored 37 runs at an average of 7.40. He was not selected in the next Test matches played by England, against Australia in 1886, and missed the next English tour of Australia, in the winter of 1886–87, organised by Shaw, Shrewsbury and Lillywhite.
Sacking of Peate
In 1886, Lord Hawke assumed full-time control of the Yorkshire team. For some years, Peate, who remained Yorkshire's leading left-arm spinner, had been drinking heavily. Having put on weight and losing fitness, Peate was less effective as a cricketer. Furthermore, his lack of self-discipline and respect for the leadership of the team was beginning to negatively influence the rest of the Yorkshire team. Consequently, with the full support of the Yorkshire committee early in the 1887 season, Hawke dismissed Peate from the team and he never played for Yorkshire again. Hawke wished to set an example to the less disciplined members of the team with Peate's dismissal but was aware that Peel was available as an instant replacement. With Peate unavailable, Peel began to play a leading role. In the 1887 season, he took 85 wickets—his most in a season until then—at an average of 17.32. He also had his best season with the bat to that point, scoring 835 runs at 25.30. According to his Wisden obituary, he recorded at least two match winning performances that season: against Kent he took five for 14 and scored 43 runs in a low-scoring game, and he took eleven wickets for 51 in the match against Leicestershire.[notes 1] Twice during the season, Peel played for the professional "Players" in the prestigious Gentlemen v Players match, the first time he had been selected for the team, although he was not particularly successful. He played regularly for the Players until 1897.
During the winter of 1887–88, the Melbourne Cricket Club organised another English tour of Australia. The team was mainly composed of amateurs, but Peel was included with three other professionals. At the same time, a rival English team, organised by Shaw, Shrewsbury and Lillywhite, also toured Australia. The resulting competition affected the attendances at games and the financial success of both tours. Furthermore, Australian cricket was in the middle of a run of failure; in eleven Test matches, from the start of the English season of 1886, Australia lost ten. Off the field, the touring teams were no longer generating profits, and interest had faded. In his history of early international cricket, Malcolm Knox observes that "two England teams were coming when Australian cricket was not strong enough to host one". The team which included Peel was officially captained by Lord Hawke, but Hawke's father died during the early part of the tour and George Vernon assumed the captaincy. Peel took 49 first-class wickets on the tour, finishing second in the bowling averages for the team, and scored 449 runs in first-class matches at an average of 34.53, which placed him second in the batting averages. Although various matches were played by both teams against combined Australian teams, only one official Test match was played on the tour; the best eleven players from both English teams combined to defeat an Australian team which had several leading players missing, and later writers have criticised the strength of both teams. Peel took nine wickets in the match, including five for 18 in the first innings as Australia were bowled out for 42 runs. With the bat, he scored 3 and 9 batting at number six in the order.
Home Test matches
In 1888, an unusually wet summer led to wet pitches which made batting very difficult. Peel took 171 first-class wickets, the first time he had taken over 100 wickets in a season, at an average of 12.22. He took five or more wickets in an innings 14 times, having done so only on 15 occasions before that season, and in four matches took ten or more wickets in total—he had only done so once before 1888. His best performance came against Nottinghamshire, when he took eight for 12 in the first innings and 14 for 33 in the match. He also took six for 34 in the Gentlemen v Players match. In the season, Peel also scored 669 runs at 13.38. That year, an Australian team toured England and Peel was chosen for his first Test matches in England. The Australian team had several key players missing, but won the first Test match before England recovered to win the final two games. Playing all three Tests, Peel took 24 wickets at an average of 7.54. In the decisive third Test, he took seven for 31 in the first Australian innings and finished with match figures of 11 for 68. Wisden judged that Peel "bowled remarkably well" in the second Test, and in the third, "the Australians were helpless against Peel" and his overall performance "was altogether admirable". Peel's performance in 1888 resulted in his selection the following spring as one of Wisden's "Six Great Bowlers"; this was the first time Wisden had made such an award, which in later years became the prestigious Wisden Cricketer of the Year. The citation said: "During his early career [Peel] was contemporary with Peate, and naturally did not get the same chances that have fallen to his lot during the last two years. He has won his way to the very front rank by sheer merit, and bats and fields so well that he would be worth playing in any eleven if he could not get a wicket."
In 1889, Peel took 130 wickets at an average of 16.39; with the bat, he scored 991 runs, his best seasonal aggregate to that point, at an average of 22.02. Against Middlesex at Lord's Cricket Ground, he scored 158 runs in his second innings, his maiden first-class century. In 1890, he took 171 wickets at an average of 13.71 and scored 817 runs at 18.56. The Australians toured England again that year, and Peel was once more selected for the Test series. He played just one Test—the first, at Lord's—and took six wickets in the game. But the touring team's results on the field were poor, resulting in a loss of prestige for the Test matches. The newly-formed County Championship was a rival attraction, and several players were withdrawn from the England team to play for their counties. Andrew Stoddart was withdrawn from the England team by Middlesex before the first Test. With Middlesex due to play Yorkshire, the same thing happened before the second Test; when he discovered this, Lord Hawke withdrew his Yorkshire players, including Peel, from the team as well. In the Middlesex-Yorkshire game, Peel dismissed Stoddart twice. The third Test was rained off completely.
During the 1891 season, Peel took 99 wickets at 17.35 and scored 971 runs at 24.27, including his second first-class century. In the winter of 1891–92, he was included in the touring team organised by Lord Sheffield and captained by W. G. Grace. Peel came fourth in the team's bowling averages with 15 wickets at 18.86 and finished fifth in the batting averages with 229 runs at 25.44. He played in all three Test matches, taking six wickets at 21.33; batting at number six, he scored 134 runs at 26.80. In the third game, he scored 83, his first Test match fifty, but did not bowl; Briggs bowled Australia out on a rain-damaged pitch but this was England's only victory as Australia won the series 2–1.
In 1892, Peel scored 772 runs at 19.79 and took 121 wickets at 16.80. The following season, he took slightly more wickets at a lower average (126 at 14.51) but his run aggregate fell to 550 runs at 13.75. The Australians toured England once again, but Peel played in just one of the three Test matches. He did not take a wicket, and did little with the bat, in his only appearance, and was then left out of the team for the second Test. For the final match, with the Australians proving poor on the field and divided off it, Lord Hawke withdrew Peel and Stanley Jackson from the team so they could play for Yorkshire. In 1894, Peel scored 699 runs at 16.25, failing to reach fifty in an innings for the first time in an English season since he made his debut. With the ball, he took 145 wickets at 13.44.
Dismissal by Yorkshire
However, in 1897, during a disappointing season, Peel's behaviour saw him disciplined by the Yorkshire club's committee over disagreements concerning pay, and other occasions when he had to be helped from the pitch. In August that year, at Bramall Lane, Sheffield – according to one story – Peel had lunched well and urinated on the pitch in front of the Yorkshire captain, Lord Hawke, who immediately banished Peel from the Yorkshire XI. An alternative story is that he had been 'taken queer in the night' and was not expected to play, but made his way to the ground, making 12 Yorkshire men on the field; seeing his 'distressed state', Lord Hawke helped him off. He never played county cricket again. In fact, apart from two festival matches in 1897, and a match for AJ Webbe's XI and one at Truro for an England XI in 1899, he never played first-class cricket again. In 1898, he appeared for Church C.C. in the Lancashire League.
Hawke later stated about Peel, "he never bore me any malice".
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