Peeling is the act of scoring points for a ball other than your own ball. At first peeling may seem quite a novel concept but as you progress as a croquet player, it becomes a much more crucial and integral part of the game.
When most people think of peeling, they would think of scoring points for their partner ball. However it is also possible to score points for the opponent balls in the same way - indeed there are often tactical reasons for doing so. We will cover all this below.
Peeling includes some terminology which is important to become familiar with:
Standard peel - the standard peel takes place when the striker and the peelee ball are for different hoops - the peelee is peeled with a croquet stroke and then the striker roquets another ball that has been placed close-by (known as the escape ball), normally in the direction of the break
Rush peel - a rush peel is what you would expect - a peel that is done using a rush instead of a croquet stroke. Normally this would be done on a ball that is already in the jaws, but theoretically it can be done from any distance
Straight peel - a somewhat misleading term, the straight peel does not refer to the angle at which the peel is being played, but rather refers to a peel where the striker and peelee are for the same hoop. The peelee is peeled in the croquet stroke and the striker scores the hoop in the continuation stroke
Irish peel - like the straight peel, the Irish peel is a peel where both peelee and striker are for the same hoop. In the Irish peel, the croquet stroke is played more firmly and both balls score the hoop in the same stroke
You may also hear reference to something called a posthumous peel in game commentary or books. A posthumous peel is not a way of playing a peel but rather refers to the point during a turn at which the peel is completed - "posthumous" means that the peel is done after the striker's ball has already scored that hoop, meaning that the game will not finish in the current turn.
Pull is an interesting phenomenon which adds to the challenge of peeling. If you have ever looked closely at a croquet ball, you will have noticed that there is a fine milling pattern of concentric circles on it. It is this milling pattern which both helps the balls to grip against one another in a croquet stroke and also to grip the ground. As a result, a croquet stroke played with any amount of split will impart some "pull" onto the forward ball, meaning that it will be "pulled" slightly in the direction of the angle of split. Experienced players allow for this subconsciously on croquet strokes throughout a break, however it is with peeling that pull requires a bit of extra thought.
A number of factors contribute to the severity of pull:
There will always be an element of guess work involved in judging pull, but like with anything, the more you practise it, the more familiar you will become with it. In order to be most successful at peels, you can look for opportunities to avoid pull on peels altogether - to do this, you must carefully plan the position of the other balls, which we will look at next.
The "escape ball" is another ball (in addition to the striker's ball and the peelee ball) involved in most peels. In the shots leading up to a peel, it is placed near the hoop to be peeled, and then after the peel, the escape ball will be roqueted by the striker - often rushed in the direction of the striker's break. Positioning of the escape ball is just as important as positioning of the peelee - where it is placed will dictate the manner in which you can play the peel.
The easiest and most accurate way to play a peel is with a straight croquet stroke, as this forgoes the need to allow for any pull. In the lead-up to a peel, you must evaluate the positions of the balls and decide accordingly on how you wish to play. Let’s take a 4-back peel after hoop 3 as an example of this:
Blue has just run hoop 3 and is peeling red through 4-back while gaining a rush on black which is acting as the escape ball. Due to the position of black, if blue wants a rush on black after the peel then it must be played as a split croquet stroke. This is not the end of the world, but playing a peel with pull is invariably less accurate than playing it straight and there is a good chance that the peel will stick in the jaws, or even bounce out of the hoop completely. From close range this is less likely, but is magnified if the peel is from further away and/or from an angled position.
What you need to weigh-up is whether blue actually needs a dolly rush southwards on black after the peel attempt, or whether a cut-rush in a south-westerly direction will suffice. In order to decide this, then you should firstly look at your hoop 4 pioneer - if it is a good pioneer, perhaps 1 yard in front of hoop 4, then the answer is probably no - any cut rush south should suffice to continue your break. With this in mind, in the example below, black has deliberately been placed around 3-4 feet South-West of 4-back so that blue can peel red with a straight stop shot without worrying about positioning of blue, and automatically obtain a cut rush down towards hoop 4 where the next pioneer is waiting.
Other things to take into account would be if 4-back is a particularly firm hoop and you want to ensure that your peel will at least finish in the jaws or better, or whether you expect you will need to be playing the peel from a long and/or angled position. If you have placed the peelee in front of its hoop and are playing your hoop 3 approach off what will become the escape ball, you will be able to make a call at that stage based on the positioning of the peelee.
Sometimes you may even consider that the peel is more important than obtaining any rush at all on the escape ball. Choose this line of play with caution and check the following points - you should have a good hoop 4 pioneer, you should have a compelling reason to value the peel more than the break, and you should be very confident with your croquet strokes.
A good example peel to look at now would be what is probably the most commonly-faced peel at all levels of croquet - the straight rover peel. It is a peel (normally on partner) through rover, immediately followed by running rover yourself, gaining a rush to the peg and pegging out to win the game. Often referred to as the "most difficult peel", but don't let that put you off - there is nothing physically difficult about peeling a ball through rover and then running it yourself; rather, the reason it so often comes to grief is simply because players do not identify the potential risks and pitfalls well in advance, and hence do not play to avoid them accordingly.
Ideally, before you even run penult with your ball, you should have partner (peelee) already in a good position at rover waiting to be peeled. It is at this point that you need to assess exactly how you intend to play the peel. If partner is in a very good position - say 1-2 feet straight in front of the hoop - then you can reasonably expect that you will be peeling rover from very close position (probably only a few inches away) and your best bet is to play an Irish peel (see top of page for more details if needed). If peelee is further out - say 5-6 feet straight, or perhaps even slightly off to one side or the other, then you are much less likely to end up peeling from a close and straight position, and so it is far safer to play the peel as a straight peel (as opposed to an Irish). This initial assessment should dictate where you place the escape balls.
Ideally for a straight rover peel, you should have both of the opponent balls available as escape balls. Based on your assessment of how you intend to play the peel, your escape balls should be placed accordingly. Peeling from very close position, you should standardly place one escape ball 1-2 feet directly east or west of rover, and the other escape ball about 1-2 yards almost directly south of rover (preferably very slightly off-straight).
If, on the other hand, you are less sure about peeling from a close position, you should still keep one ball 1-2 feet east or west of rover and instead place the other ball close to the south boundary, perhaps 2-3 yards from the yardline directly south of rover.
When playing an Irish peel from close range, the stroke should be played as a drive and quite firmly, so that the peelee will stay on the court by about 3-4 yards if the peel catches no wire whatsoever. With the escape balls well-placed, so long as the striker's ball either runs the hoop or is able to run the hoop with the continuation stroke, there is almost nothing that can go wrong. Whichever point your striker's ball runs the hoop to, you should have a free swing on at least one of the escape balls.
When playing the straight peel (peeling with croquet stroke then running hoop with continuation stroke), your starting position will generally be further away - in the example of a 3-4 foot peel, you should play the peel as a stop shot, being mindful to leave your striker's ball at least 18-24 inches back from rover in order to run the hoop in the next shot. If you have peeled partner cleanly through rover by a few yards, you should then be able to run rover gently and roquet the escape ball beside rover. Leaving your striker's ball at least 18" back from rover before running it is critical in order to give enough room to run the hoop with a jump stroke (or half jump stroke), if the peelee happens to stick in the hoop. Not having enough room between striker's ball and peelee to play a jump stroke is one of the most common ways that this peel comes to grief. Having the jump stroke as an available option for a jawsed peel should make it clear why one of the escape balls was placed near to the south boundary earlier - so that the jump stroke can run rover to the south boundary and have a ball in close proximity to roquet, effectively as a reception ball.
If you are playing the rover peel from a fairly long and angled position - say 3 feet @ 30 degrees - then while things are certainly getting more desperate, there is another option is available to you known as the Jaws and Jump method.
With this method, you will play the peel attempt as a stop shot once again, but this time allowing for pull on the peelee. The intention is to try and jaws the peelee (peeling it if you are lucky) and at the same time gain a ~2 foot straight hoop for the striker's ball in order to play a jump stroke through rover.
You might think that if you have jawsed the rover peel and then done a full jump over it, your chances of finishing the game in that turn are slim, but actually there is an option available to complete the peel using a cannon and gaining a rush to the peg to win.
After roqueting the escape ball near the south boundary, you may find yourself taking croquet from it at a position somewhere north of rover - this is perfect as it enables you to line up the croqueted ball to bombard onto the peelee that is in rover, causing it to score the hoop, while you get a rush on the second escape ball that is close to rover. From there it is a simple case to get a rush on partner towards the peg and peg out.
More common though is that you have roqueted the south boundary escape ball to somewhere random on the court where a bombard is not available to you. In this case you will need to try and bombard peelee through rover with the escape ball that is already close to rover. You should try and obtain a good rush on the rover escape ball to a position about 1 foot north of rover and slightly to one side or the other. Line up the croquet stroke to bombard peelee through rover (remembering to allow for pull), and play the stroke as a full or pass roll so that the striker's ball finishes south of the peelee. It's probable that you won't have a dolly rush to the peg, but you at least have a good chance at roqueting partner in the direction of the peg and pegging out.
Peeling in croquet is such a big topic, with some peeling manoeuvres requiring their own separate articles. In the future, I intend to write some articles about more advanced topics like standard and delayed triple peels, and other manoeuvres such as sextuple peels. 5p>