Guest Review: Spinner’s Yarn By Ian Peebles

When Ian Peebles moved from his native Scotland to London in 1926 at the age of eighteen, he began working with the former Test all-rounder Aubrey Faulkner at his indoor school. The two men hoped that Peebles would emulate the success of Sydney Barnes, regarded for most of the twentieth century as the greatest bowler of all time. Peebles, when he joined Faulkner, could bowl the same finger-spun fast leg-break that made Barnes so formidable. But although he could produce this delivery at will in the indoor nets, he soon completely lost the ability to do so outdoors in competitive cricket. 

Review: This book, published in 1977, is the autobiography of Ian Peebles, a cricketer and journalist. Born in Aberdeen and educated in Glasgow, he moved to London in 1926 to work at an indoor cricket school. His cricketing talent as a spin bowler was soon recognised and he was invited on an MCC tour of South Africa. He started playing county cricket for Middlesex and, in the autumn of 1929, he went up to Oxford University, being awarded a blue the following summer. It was during this summer, that he was selected for the 4th and 5th test matches against the touring Australian side at Old Trafford and the Oval, thus becoming the first man born and brought up in Scotland to play cricket for England. His first wicket in test cricket in England was none other than the great Don Bradman, caught at slip for a score of 14, which given “The Don’s” brilliant form during that summer of 1930, was considered a major coup.

At Oxford, Ian had concentrated on cricket rather than his undergraduate studies and decided to give up the academic life and go on another MCC tour of South Africa during the winter of 1930-31. He played his last test match for England the following summer against New Zealand, and subsequently represented Scotland against the same opposition in 1937. He played for Middlesex, captaining them during the last season before the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939. During the London Blitz, he lost most of the sight of one eye as a result of a bomb blast. He played a few more games for Middlesex after the war, his last match being in 1948.

During this period, there was a distinction between cricketers who played as amateurs and those who played as professionals. Ian Peebles was an amateur, and therefore needed an occupation to sustain himself when he wasn’t away on a cricket tour. He worked in a few different jobs, but eventually worked in the wine and spirit trade. He had also done some freelance cricket reporting for newspapers and, when his playing days were over, he concentrated on cricket writing. He covered two tours of Australia and one tour of the West Indies for the Sunday Times.

I found this book very readable and enjoyed the author’s writing style, which is not surprising given his background as a journalist and writer. It is a fascinating insight into the world of cricket during the 1920sand 1930s, with its descriptions of some of the characters who occupied that world. However, it is not just cricket that is described, since Ian Peebles also discusses society outside of cricket, providing a window into a bygone age of Britain prior to, during and after the Second World War. As such, this book will be of interest not just to cricket fans, but to anybody interested in this period of the 20th century.

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