Once upon a time there was a cricket club, formed by old boys from the now defunct Henry Thornton secondary school in Clapham (alma mater of actor Hywel Bennett, inter alios). They were called Old Thorntonians. They also had a second XI, somewhat unimaginatively called Old Thorntonians II. For the most part, they played friendly games against clubs in the south-west of London.
In the late 1970s, Old Thorntonians II decided they wanted to enter a League. Not all the members were up for the idea of league cricket, with all that serious, win-or-bust, sledge-of-the-week-award mentality, finding it got in the way of the drinking. So, a splinter group took over the existing fixture list, and continued to play friendly games against friendly people.
Thus was born the Surrey Cryptics Cricket Club. Since then, the club has ridden the roller-coaster of failure and not-quite-failure, occasionally speckled with unalloyed joy (eat your hearts out, Federation of Zionist Youth).
Much of the club’s performance in the 1980s is lost to the twin catastrophes of the Great New York Scorebooks Disaster, when irreplaceable records were lost to the nation, and of Thatcherism, when many Cryptics were too busy making money to remember what happened in the cricket.
However, throughout its history, the club has retained two vital elements: the enthusiasm and drive of its officials, who continually refuse to roll over and die in the face of world class apathy, and the club’s ability to unearth a bedrock of peripatetic former colonials [can you have a peripatetic bedrock – Ed?] A hard core of Southern Africans and Australasians has sustained the club, and continues to serve it well. A few have even suborned our womenfolk, and become permanent British residents.
The club’s original fixture list focused substantially on an arc of south-west London that straddled the South Circular Road – opponents such as Battersea Ironsides, Lloyds Register and Sutton & District Railway.
This list has evolved over time, and drifted inexorably southwards, as many of our core players have become upwardly mobile, married and/or bred, and discovered that a rented place in an Earlsfield terrace just isn’t enough. In 2017 nearly half our opponents played at grounds outside the M25, and most of the rest are within spitting distance of it. Three were in Hampshire.
New opponents have come and gone, and in the louche, androgynous late 1980’s, it was entirely appropriate that our fixtures included the Wallington Cottagers. Some of our opponents have fallen in the name of ‘progress’, their grounds sold from under them. Charter and Diamond is now allegedly a garden centre; the pitch at Bethlem & Maudsley became unavailable when the psychiatric hospital which hosted it closed, forever removing the thrill of unpredictable encounters in the woods surrounding the boundary.
These fixtures have been partly replaced by more bucolic environments; traditional and picturesque rural grounds at Chiddingfold, Chipstead, Blackheath. But only partly – as recently as 1988, the fixture list was 28 strong; in 2017 we had 15.
Why? Family pressures on an ageing membership mean that playing on Saturday and Sunday is no longer feasible, except for the persuasive and the divorced. And with the increase in league cricket, clubs restrict friendly cricket to Sundays, although our annual invitation to participate in Claygate’s cricket week is always a pleasurable exception.
The club has established a tradition since 2000 of an international tour every two or three years. We have been hosted three times each in Porto and Menorca, and also toured Slovenia. In 2018 we make our second visit to Malta.
Our performances over the years have varied substantially, only occasionally related to the talent available to us. But the ability to lose quick wickets and throw away good opening stands remains with us, demonstrating the oft-quoted belief that we’re basically a team of no. 7s, with a couple of decent batsmen for good measure. They know who they are.
However, our general playing strength has improved in recent years, such that our #11 was only called upon to trudge to the middle five times in 2017.
And although the club’s average age is higher than it once was, home-grown talent is under development, and we can cite at least 15 families where two generations have turned out in the same Cryptics team. As the club breeding programme continues apace, more Cryptics than ever have a youngster waiting in the wings.