A peel is where you cause a ball, other than the one you are striking, to run its next hoop and thereby score a point.
Virtually all players who are in the top 200 or so in the world rankings are able regularly to complete the “triple peel”. To do this, the player must peel another ball through its last three hoops (4-back, penult, rover) and peg it out, whilst taking their own ball through its hoops, in one turn.
Why is this so important? At top level, as soon as one player gets a break established, the game becomes very one-sided as that player dominates the position of all the balls. A very good player (let’s call him / her “A”) might play a turn taking one ball through all 12 hoops and at the end leave the balls of the opponent (let’s call him/her “B”) unable to hit each other across hoop one. In this way B is severely disadvantaged in having to shoot at a distant target (A having retired with both balls to a corner 25-30m away) whilst having to leave one ball close to the first hoop that A’s remaining ball wants to go through, which in turn is an enormous help to A.
Accordingly, in order to make it easier for the “innings” to change hands in croquet played to advanced rules (virtually all major championships), the out-player is given a major advantage if the player with the first break goes through too many hoops. If he/she goes through both one-back and four-back in the same turn with his/her first ball, the opponent has the right to start his / her next turn by a “contact lift”, picking up either ball and placing it in contact with any other anywhere on the lawn. This is almost bound to cause the innings to change hands, at least temporarily.
The first player to get a break established (A) therefore often stops the break after three-back, leaving that ball with its last three hoops (and the peg-out) still to go, whilst B’s balls are left unable to hit each other and with only a distant shot at the other balls.
If B does not manage to grab back the innings by a long roquet, player A will then
play his / her backward ball through all its 12 hoops and while doing so will peel
the forward ball through its last three hoops (hence the name, “triple peel”). In that way
both balls can be pegged out without B having another chance to get back into the game.
A triple peel can also be performed on one of your opponent’s balls. This is normally only attempted if the opponent’s other ball has many hoops still to run, otherwise a lucky hit-in will enable the player with one ball left to play a 3-ball break (more tricky than with 4 balls) and peg-out just one ball (easier than having to organise two at once).
Attempting a triple peel is hazardous, given that you are deliberately restricting the positioning of one of the four balls on the lawn, but in a full game to 26 points there are normally several opportunities to deal with the peeling even if it doesn’t always work first time. If the length of the game is restricted to only 14 points, as in the Belgian Open, it means that a triple peel must work pretty well the first time it is started, or the attempt must be abandoned.
At the really top level, we now see players regularly playing a sextuple peel, i.e. deliberately not taking the first break beyond hoop 6, and leaving the last 6 hoops (and the peg-out) to that player’s backward ball. As with a 14 point game, there is precious little room for manoeuvre if things start to go wrong with a sextuple peel attempt. However, a successful sextuple avoids having to concede to the opponent even the minor advantage of the “lift” shot that is possible after hoop 7. Such a lift entitles you to pick up either of your balls and to play it from anywhere on either start line, instead of where the opponent left it, and is intended to enhance the outplayer’s chances of grabbing the innings.
The picture shows Tim Wilkins (winner of the Belgian Open in 2004) lining up his balls for the first peel in a “triple peel”. The Blue clip on the hoop shows that this is the hoop Blue needs to run; the Black clip is in Tim’s pocket as he is part way through a break and has already run hoops 1, 2 & 3 with Black. He is thus attempting with Black to peel Blue through hoop 4 at the same time as Black is ready to run this hoop.
Note that the clearance between the insides of the hoop and the diameter of the ball is only about 1.5 - 2 mm, calling for great accuracy of aim