For a club that’s been going just four years, New Zealand Croatia Cricket is doing all right. They’ve got a 2016 BLACKCAP on their books in Anton Devcich, some of Auckland and Northland’s sharpest players falling over themselves to play for them and a season calendar that would be the envy of most wanderers’ clubs.
Tomorrow on Cornwall Park’s number one ground they’ll take on Auckland Cricket’s Developing Future Aces — the name bestowed on their top under-19s prospects. It’s the third year in a row that Auckland Cricket has sought out New Zealand Croatia for a one-day season workout ahead of the serious business of trying to win the national under-19s title, which begs the question — why?
“It must be something about us Kiwi Croatians,” quips Joey Yovich with a hint of mischief and a germ of truth. “We fight hard, work hard, we’re not here to muck around. Right from the beginning, our team set its standards high.”
The club was born when longtime Northern Districts allrounder Yovich, former Waikato Valley wicketkeeper Tony Govorko and former Auckland A rep John Vujnovich looked around and realised how many cricketers there were floating around the traps evidently of Croatian extraction.
“The names can make it pretty easy to spot a fellow mushki,” says Hamilton-based Govorko, the new club president. “But what happened is once we got up and running, all these players whom we hadn’t known were also Croatian came out of the woodwork. The likes of Adrian and Dominic Smith-Hodgson, and James and Charles Bevin.”
Govorko and Vujnovich also represented Croatia itself at ICC regional level (yes, they do play high level cricket in Europe) and, while most Croatians at home and abroad would claim football as a national religion, in New Zealand the Croatian influence can be felt in every sporting code from tennis (think Onny and Michelle Parun, Marina Erakovic), rugby (All Blacks Anthony Boric, Frano Botica, Greg and Matt Cooper for starters), golf (Frank Nobilo), motorsport (Paul Radisich) — the list goes on. And yes, football of course. Current captain of the Football Ferns Abby Erceg and All White and Auckland City FC’s Ivan Vicelich, MNZM, to name but two.
Vicelich is a big supporter of New Zealand Croatia Cricket but with the number of young talents of Croatian heritage that the club has already identified and fostered, he’ll be struggling to strap on the pads in a cross-code adventure.
“We’ve got a number of good young players coming up through the Auckland Cricket system — the likes of the Lister brothers from Waitakere, and a few former and current Auckland A players — the ilk of Michael Ravlic who have kept the side fresh and energetic on the park,” explains Yovich. “And then there’s a few of us older heads who are all about passing on the values and standards that we have learned through our own careers. That’s a big part of what we are all about.”
Apart from Auckland’s next generation of Aces and BLACKCAPS, New Zealand Croatia also takes on former BLACKCAPS and first-class representatives in an annual fixture with the New Zealand Cricket Players’ Association, and Northern Districts’ up-and-comers in the representative Northern Maori team. They’ve played international sides, too, and have a goal of getting themselves over to Croatia in the next few years to show the continental cousins what the sport New Zealand-styles is all about. It’s all a step up from the normal golden oldies diet of most small “wanderer’s clubs”, of no fixed abode.
The third annual One-Day match between the Kookaburra New Zealand Croatia XI and Auckland Cricket DFA starts at 10am tomorrow at Auckland’s Cornwall Park, and includes former BLACKCAP James Marshall as a guest player in the line-up.
Admission is free.
Kookaburra New Zealand Croatia: Joseph Yovich (c), Ryan Brown, Josh Fisher, Paul Hitchcock, Bradley Kneebone (wk), Matthew Lobb, James Marshall, Dan Marsic, James Piskulic, James Thompson, Matthew Vujcich, John Vujnovich.
Auckland Cricket DFA: Benjamin Beecroft (c), Daniel Young, Aditya Edekar, Jack Coman, Finn Allen, Michael Ross, Adam Baard (WK), Adam Jones, Simon Keene, Ariyan Hassan, Matthew Gibson, Daman Bhatti, Keegan Russell.