Founded in 1928, the Avorians Cricket Club celebrated its 75th Anniversary in 2003 but the question most frequently posed by both club members and visitors alike is “Who are the Avorians Cricket Club.”
The club’s history can be traced back to shortly after the end of the First World War when following de-mob from the armed forces young men returned back to their villages. Cobham at this time had only one village cricket team so there was a need for another team.
This resulted in the formation of Cobham Juniors who started playing at Cobham Meadows. One of the club’s founder members was Berthil Gregory who recognized the need to find alternative playing facilities. He and Charlie Cooper approached a local landowner Mr Edward James Avory about clearing and using his land opposite the Fairmile Hotel as a new cricket ground. Mr Avory, the brother of the late Mr Justice Avory, himself a former keen sportsman (reaching the Quarter-Final of the Wimbledon Tennis Championships in 1891) listened to their request.
He agreed they could use the land and only charged a peppercorn rent. Berthil and Charlie organized the clearance of the land with the help of the club’s enthusiastic members. The square was laid by Luffs and in 1928 the club was named Avorians Sports Club after its benefactor Mr. Avory.
The first ball was bowled on the ground in 1930. Ironically, this is the ground now occupied by Cobham Cricket Club following their recent amalgamation with Old Surbitonians!
Mr. Avory gave regular support to the club and was frequently seen at the ground as an ardent spectator and when the club expanded to run a tennis section, it was his foresight, interest and financial support that assisted to build two courts.
On Tuesday 30th May 1944 Mr. Avory aged 91 years met an unfortunate death when he fell in a bonfire at his Fairlawn estate at Cobham. Having been pre-deceased by his wife, Jane, and daughter, Ethel, this led to his beneficiaries offering the ground to the club at a purchase price of eleven thousand pounds. This was unfortunately way beyond the means of the club’s finances, something which was clearly regrettable. As a result of the failure to purchase, it was necessary to look at the club’s future and the then President Mr L.C. Bullock approached Burhill Estates. At this time the club’s Secretary Freddie Edmonds’ wife was working for that company and it was known that land at Convent Lane might be available!
Following long negotiations, a contract for lease of this land was finally signed and once again enthusiastic members along with contractors Frank Harris began clearing the site for cricket. Members erected a pavilion and the ground was finally made playable with the first ball being bowled in 1948. The club still occupies the land to this day and what a beautiful ground it is.
In 1949, the Avorians went on their first cricket tour to Devon playing the strongest teams in that county. This tour was to continue for 3 years and was reintroduced in 1962 and continued until the late 1960s.
Berthil Gregory became the Club’s president and continued to play cricket in his own inimitable way. The late, great Wally Hammond wrote in his book of our beloved game that “Greg”, as he was affectionately known was, “The hardest hitter of a cricket ball in cricket”. High praise indeed of a club amateur who was a legend amongst his contempories. Greg always led from the front and captained the club for a number of years until his untimely death.
At this time Trevor Smith became the President and the club continued to thrive under his guidance and became one of the strongest in the South East of England with a formidable fixture list.
The club in its 75 years has boasted some really top class cricketers and probably top of the list has to be one R.G.D. Willis. Bob played for the club for two seasons in the late 1960s and displayed what a great fast bowler he was to become. Two years after leaving the club to become a professional he was opening the bowling for England against Australia!
As mentioned in the Foreword, Bob introduced another soon-to-be international skipper to the playing ranks in Geoff Howarth, who played for the club for a couple of seasons.
Just as quick as Bob Willis was the incomparable Mick Mitchell who opened the bowling for the Avorians in the 1970s. He was the opening bowler at Middlesex when John Price was their number two and we all know that Pricey went on to represent his country.
Probably the most successful bowling partnership in the clubs history was in operation during this time. The combined guile and spin of Gathercole and Holmes. Brian and Harry were legendary as the left arm “Offer” and the “Leggie” and they regularly bowled 20 overs apiece dismissing the opposition. Brian Gathercole regularly took over 100 wickets a season and was almost exclusively awarded the annual Ronson Shaver award for most wickets. I’m sure he had nearly as many electric shavers as Victor Khyam!
To be a successful spinner you have to have the services of a good wicket keeper and Brian and Harry had a great one in Tony “Chums” Longman. He provided them both with wickets from balls that perhaps did not deserve them, most notably Gathers’ arm ball down the leg side! Tony was later to become President for 6 years and what a great ambassador he has been for the club.
The advent of league cricket saw the Avorians enter the Surrey Cricketers League at inception. A certain amount of success followed, with the Club finally landing the coveted SCL title in 1980. This was in no small part due to the bowling of Dave McDonald, bowler of one of the most consistent leg stump Yorkers in amateur cricket.
On 30th May 1983 Avorians played host to the touring New Zealand Cricket Team on the opening game of their tour. The New Zealanders fielded a full strength Test XI against the hosts including Lance Cairns, Martin and Jeff Crowe, Ewan Gray, Jeremy Coney, Glenn Turner, Ewan Chatfield, Warren Jones, Bruce Edgar and John Bracewell. The side was led by ex-Avorian Geoff Howarth.
Hundreds of interested spectators witnessed a very close game with the tourists just winning the day.
Throughout this period, a certain Denis Jacobs was making a significant contribution to the Club’s history. Denis occupied all positions in the club as player, Chairman for 16 years, handyman and loyal supporter. Without Denis’ unselfish contributions over more than 2 decades the club would not be in the strong position it is today.
Mention must also be made of David and Mary Cawsey. “Dear boy” was club Secretary from 1977 until his death in 1994 and Mary occupied the position of Treasurer from 1964 until 1996, some 32 years. Modern cricketers please note, this type of loyalty is the cornerstone of all good cricket clubs!
During the 1980s the club boasted a very strong Colts Section, which was due entirely to the efforts of David Cawsey and Jack Bailey. During this era the club enjoyed great success in colts competitions and it was the breeding ground for players like Matthew Jacobs, Mark, Tim and Charlie Hodgson, Michael and Hugh Bailey, Mark Lane, Graham Crawford and Daniel Lane to name but a few. The club owes a debt of gratitude to David, Jack and their helpers who ran this colts section.
With the widespread introduction of ‘overseas’ players during the mid-Eighties, Graeme Labrooy also graced the sward at Convent Lane and had a very successful campaign with the club before going on to represent Sri Lanka in 9 tests.
In 1987, the Surrey Cricketers League amalgamated to form the Second Division of the Surrey Championship and the Club competed in this Division for 11 seasons, generally finishing in the top half of the table. The title was eventually secured in 1997 under the astute captaincy of Andy Bell.
This however was perhaps not a good time to get promoted to Division 1 as the Surrey Championship went professional the next year. The players found themselves up against the likes of Jimmy Adams (Sunbury), Reon King (Old Emanuel) and Neil Johnson (Addiscombe) and unfortunately they were relegated. The formation of the Premier League the following year meant that the club effectively dropped two divisions.
Against this backdrop, 1998 saw perhaps the lowest point in the history of the Avorians when, faced with apparent indifference from the majority of the dwindling playing membership, the Committee were forced to seek out an amalgamation with Walton-on-Thames CC. This proved to be a catalyst for change, however, as at a Emergency General Meeting the membership voted unanimously to reject the proposed merger, and under the leadership of the current Chairman, Mark Barrow, and President, Darrell Hinds, and with the generous support of Darrell’s son Jeremy, the club has gone from strength to strength, in 2000 gaining promotion back to Division 1 as Runners Up, where they remain.
The Avorians are extremely proud to simultaneously hold three Surrey Championship batting records. In 1996 Matthew Jacobs set the Division Two record in scoring 187 not out in the game against Dorking, and in 2001, Matt Daykin, an Australian with whom the club has had a 4 year relationship, set a new Championship record when he hammered the Bank of England attack for 208 not out in just 50 overs. In 2004 we set a new record for the highest score in the Premier Division with 419-5 in 60.0 overs against Guildford.
Matt Daykin continued to play for the club having qualified by residency and in 2002 the club were lucky enough to to have as their overseas player Brad Haddin. Brad is an Australian international and is currently pushing Adam Gilchrist hard for the Wicketkeeper/Batsman slot in the Australian One Day International side. Matt unfortunately left the club at the end of 2003.
In 2003 the club completed the signing of Mark Higgs as their overseas player. Mark is a left hand bat/left arm spinner who is a regular in the South Australia state side and made the original 30-man squad for the World Cup. He returned to Australia at the end of 2003.
Paul Prichard, ex-Essex and England, also played for the club in 2002 but due to Minor Counties and work commitments his appearances were limited. He certainly made up for it in 2003/4!
Other tireless workers on behalf of the club included Tony Longman, Bill Murdoch, John Loose, Watkin Evans, George Young and Steve Knight and more recently John Lane. Indeed the Lane family has been represented at the Avorians through 4 generations with Ernie, Ernie Jnr, Harold, Cliff, Malcolm, John and Daniel all playing.
Peter Smith is also one of its better known ambassadors having played for the club as boy and man for 40 years and only decided age had finally taken its toll in 2000 when he ended his playing days. Peter epitomised the Avorians spirit, playing the game “the way it should be played” and spending time socialising with the opposition and the umpires. The club maintains this ethos to this day and it remains a friendly place to play cricket for members and opponents alike.
Ian Findlay who gained representative honours as a Surrey opener also played at the club, as did Chelsea footballer Peter Osgood.
In their 75th Anniversary year, 2003, the 1st XI won the 1st Division of the Surrey Championship so gaining promotion to the Premier Division. This was in no small part due to the batting and bowling performances of Matt Daykin and Mark Higgs who both topped the league averages.
Unfortunately the club lost the services of Matt before the start of the season 2004. Playing in the elite Premier Division however proved a bridge too far and despite the best efforts of Paul Prichard, Aaron O'Brien (2004 International, NSW, S Australia), Cliff Hill and his merry men, the club finished second to bottom in the 2004 season and were relegated back to Division 1.
2005 was a year of great hopes but sadly our cavalier (and relaxed) attitude got the better of us after the half way point. We rose magnificently up the table during the first few games and at one point were challenging for second position, however in usual style, once we had achieved a safe position, availability took its toll and we sank slowly back down the First Division finishing one place above relegation spot. Matt Daykin had returned (again) for the season but even his game couldn't slow our gentle slide back to the lower ranks. The committee was stronger and more committed than ever and the bank balance was healthy but the season ended on a low. Matt returned to Australia at the end of the season to finally heed his parents constant desire for him to finally attend university. The closed season saw a concerted effort from Steve Lewis, Peter Ruddy and Darrell Hinds and following their efforts, a strong battlechest was put together to help us fight the 2006 season.
What a great season 2006 turned out to be as predicted! The First XI played some remarkable attacking cricket throughout the season with Mark Higgs nearly completing a thousand runs for his return season. However the whole success of the season boiled down to the last game with Sunbury already crowned champions of Division 1, Cobham Avorians had to win the last game at Sunbury to gain promotion ahead of Walton on Thames. Andy Umpleby produced a devastating opening spell and eventually took seven wickets dismissing Sunbury for less than 100.Then openers Higgs and Auri Basu knocked off the runs in 10 overs without loss confirming the clubs rise back to the Premier Division for 2007. However the promotion meant that the club had to find forty thousand pounds to have the pavilion extended to enlarge the changing facilities to meet ECB specifications. The second eleven also enjoyed unmitigated success by becoming champions of Division 3 of the second X1 league by a staggering 37 points. So both sides were promoted and mention must be made of the work of the cricket chairman Andy Bell who worked to strengthen both sides during the close season. During the close season on the run up to 2007 the clubhose work was undertaken and grateful thanks must go to one of the clubs sponsors Andrew Beaumont whose company Runnymede Homes undertook the work. The changing rooms are now completed and ready for use. With the backbone of the club now underpinned by a very active Colts Academy run by Darren Talbot and Peter Worth along with a very committed group of members and parents the clubs future looks extremely bright. Mark Higgs returns for 2007 as the overseas player and along with stalwarts Scott Jarvis, Andy Umpleby, Steve Harpley, Graham Crawford and captain Jerry Hinds the 2007 season is eagerly anticipated.
John Lane - March 2007
2007 did indeed turn out to be one of the club's best ever seasons. In fact for the next three seasons the A's competed very successfully in the Surrey Championship Premier Division, finishing 6th in 2007, 5th in 2008 and a club highest ever 4th in 2009.
Unfortunately this success on the pitch came at a high price. In 2010, with the First XI having been relegated from the Premier Division, the Committee effectively resigned en masse, leaving new President, Peter Smith, returning Chairman Mark Barrow and an enthusiastic new Committee to try to fill in the hole that had been left in the club's finances.
A new chapter of "back to basics" has started well, including what it is hoped will be a long and successful association with junior football club Oxshott Royals FC, and hopes are high that the future of the club will soon once again be secure.
As the club fought hard to steady the ship off the pitch, the First XI expectedly endured successive relegations in 2011 and 2012. Having operated profitably for 2 and a half years, and with the club's debts firmly under control, however, the Management Committee have now embarked on a significant programme of works to upgrade the facilities at the club, including the building of a petanque pitch (a "terrain" apparently)! Although the relationship with our friends at Oxshott Royals has come to an end after 3 seasons, our relationship with the tennis company, ESG, continues to flourish.
2013 sees the arrival from York of Sanjaya Rodrigo, a former Sri Lanka Under 19 International with 57 First Class games, and 2 First Class 100's under his belt. Sanjaya is an ECB Level 2 qualified coach, who aims to progress to L3 over the next couple of years. Sanjaya will take a lead coaching role in the development of both the adults and the Academy. We are also fortunate to have the services of Dan Stevenson. Australian by birth, Dan is a current Austrian international who is looking to play a full season of League cricket.