Cricket is a bat-and-ball game played between two teams of eleven players on a cricket field, at the centre of which is a rectangular 22-yard-long pitch with a wicket, a set of three wooden stumps sited at each end. One team, designated the batting team, attempts to score as many runs as possible, whilst their opponents field. Each phase of play is called an innings. After either ten batsmen have been dismissed or a set number of overs have been completed, the innings ends and the two teams then swap roles. The winning team is the one that scores the most runs, including any extras gained, during their period batting.
Links To Peel
Peel attended boarding schools at a time when cricket was commonly played at such institutions and was sometimes considered as not just a game but a moral code to live by. The renowned cricket writer Neville Cardus had been assistant cricket coach at Shrewsbury School before World War 1 and Peel's housemaster at school, Richard Hubert John Brooke was a former cricketer, who he considered as the greatest man I ever knew. However, in the sections of his autobiography dealing with his schooldays Peel says nothing about cricket, mentioning only that he played football for his house team. Yet he must have gained some experience of the game. In an interview with the Wirral Globe in 2003, Peel mentioned watching cricketer Ken Cranston play during his childhood:
"Burton was a real working village in those days and there wasn't much for young people to do. For entertainment I can remember travelling to Neston to watch Ken Cranston play cricket. He was quite a phenomenal player and it was rather extraordinary to see this England international playing for a tiny village team. I remember seeing him hit a six once, the ball went straight up in the air and landed in a baby's pram! The baby's mother was much less impressed with him than I was." According to Margrave Of The Marshes, Peel co-founded the Dallas County Cricket Club in 1962 while living in America..
"San Antonio...I used to go down there and play cricket, as a founder member of the Dallas County Cricket Club, which probably no longer exists. We used to play in the shadow of the Pearl Brewery there...we used to go and see Clarence Gatemouth Brown play in a club and drink something called Black Pearl, which was only available in the immediate area of the brewery. Perhaps I have made it up: it certainly sounds like a good story." Peel recalled his days as a member of the Dallas County Cricket Club in a 1971 Disc & Music Echo column, saying that the club "was composed of homesick colonials" and recounting a tale of match-winning batting heroics which might have come straight from one of the schoolboy stories he read in his youth (so far no scorecards have been found to verify his story). On his 24 February 2000 show, he described a game being broken up when members of the local university American football team invaded the pitch:
"They were much bigger than us. And also, I have to say, a great deal more stupid too. And the same sort of attitudes dictated American foreign policy at the time, which was rather frightening."
Back in England, Peel would occasionally turn out to play in matches, some of which were charity events where he was on the 'celebrity' side. One such example was a match played in 1980 with Radio One colleague Mike Read. On his 04 August 1980 show, Peel recounts how during their innings Read was out first ball as the number 5 batsman, whereas he had made a "pretty pacey" 27, coming in next. Peel notes with quiet satisfaction that his bowling figures were also better than Mike's, despite claiming never to have bowled in his life before. In 1988, Peel played in another cricket match and he described his happiness at scoring 21 runs on his 13 June 1988 show:
"On the weekend on Saturday in fact, I spent whole of my afternoon at a cricket match, charity cricket match, no great distance from my home. One of these things, I haven't played around two years and I expected to make a fool of myself, but I scored rather a princely twenty one. It may not sound a lot to you, but it was a lot to me. And I .. well taken runs I thought. A six too out of the ground, some cars ill advisedly having a car boot sale on the edge of the pitch. Impressive stuff rather pleased with myself. I also took the hardest catch I ever taken in my life, one of those right up in the air things, where you have to run around the boundary standing there waiting the whole life passes by in front of you, while you wait for it to come down, usually you drop it, but on this occasion I caught it and as I say I was hugely pleased with myself."
Overall Peel was enthusiastic about playing cricket, although on his 20 July 1999 show he stated that he was not keen on watching the game:
"I like playing cricket, I have to say. I'm not very keen on watching it. But the last team I played in, I eventually got dumped by them for wearing an unsuitable sunhat. It's absolutely true."
Broadcasting and Music
Cricket commentaries were a feature of radio during Peel's schooldays, and one of Peel's favourite broadcasters was the celebrated BBC cricket commentator John Arlott, who Peel mentioned on Radio Radio (Transcript):
"I used to listen to cricket commentaries when John Arlott was doing them. I wasn’t interested in cricket but it was just such a joy to hear him improvising, you know."
Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, live cricket was a regular part of the BBC's TV schedules, and in those decades the leading international team were West Indies, whose rise to supremacy was accompanied by the rise of reggae (a 2010 documentary film about the era was called Fire In Babylon). At Test Matches they were supported by West Indian immigrant communities, who celebrated exuberantly when "their" team defeated England. Although the game had a conservative image in England, the presence of overseas players in county sides meant that it was multi-racial, at a time when English football had few black players and racist attitudes among supporters were common. Cricket had some young, "hip" followers, and its roots in rural life chimed with the 1970s mood of back-to-the land nostalgia. Occasional pieces on the sport appeared in the underground press (especially during the West Indies tour of 1973), the England bowler Bob Willis changed his name by deed poll to Robert George Dylan Wills, in honour of his favourite singer, and the Rolling Stones' Mick Jagger was seen in the crowd at Test matches.
In the twentieth century, cricket became a part of the English literary tradition, the slowness of the traditional game provoking cricket-loving writers to compose meditations on the passing of time and the transitory nature of human life. One of Peel's favourite songs drew on this tradition; When An Old Cricketer Leaves The Crease, which was written and sung by Roy Harper (whose father had been a keen cricketer). The song's lyrics use a batsman's innings as a metaphor for life, so Peel decided that it would be played by John Walters at his funeral. However Walters died first, and Peel's first show following his death (31 July 2001) featured the song at the very end. After Peel's death, Andy Kershaw's tribute programme to him also ended with this song.