“It’s going to be a special occasion bringing together, for the first time, two sides that have strong lineages and deep pride in the north,” says Vujnovich. “We’re also about playing very competitive cricket — we know that Cobham are very tough and seldom lose, so with the calibre of players on each side it’s going to be a great tussle.”
New Zealand Croatia’s star power includes allrounder Joey Yovich who says the ‘Harlem Globetrotters-style side’ is all fired up for what they hope will be their first home win. “We’ve had some agonisingly close finishes this summer, including a last-ball defeat against Northern Maori. We know Cobham have got some great names from the past, but we’re hoping with it being T20 it’s going to be the triumph of youthful energy over experience!”
Not that the New Zealand Croatia club doesn’t boast a few handy players. Vujnovich, along with his brother Paul, is a former Auckland A player and together with Tony Govorko and Anton Vujcich they have all represented Croatia at ICC level. Kiwi-Croatian and Northern Knights allrounder Anton Devcich was also set for this game — until he was picked for the Blackcaps’ World Twenty20 Championship in Bangladesh this month. Says Vujnovich, “Devvy is trying hard to make his New Zealand Croatia debut, but we’ve had to allow the Blackcaps first dibs…”
Many have strong familial ties to the north. Besides Yovich, their line-up includes Whangarei scions and brothers Adrian and Dominic Smith-Hogson, Kaipara’s Matt Vujcich, Auckland Aces representative Dušan Hakaraia and Auckland A rep Craig Borich. Adrian Smith-Hodgson will make his New Zealand Croatia debut at Cobham and Yovich says he is looking forward to seeing the team come together at such an outstanding first-class and international venue. “We’ll impress our Auckland boys, I’m sure, with what we’ve got up here in the north!”
He’s also keen to hear from more players of Kiwi Croatian descent to add the club’s roster — the latest addition being Northland’s Cody Andrews, whose grandfather provided a Croatian link. The team will be making its second international tour this winter to the Pacific Islands to assist with cricket’s development.
John Vujnovich: “One of the neat things about the Croatian culture is that we’re very strong on keeping our heritage alive and sharing it from one generation to the next, but also with people from other backgrounds. It feels very much like one big family, this team, with us all playing for each other and a lot of pride in what it means to be representing Kiwi Croatians.
“For the older players among us, it’s also all about creating experiences and high standards to help develop the up-and-comers. We give them exposure to touring and to testing themselves both alongside and against some very experienced and accomplished players in a competitive environment.”
It’s a sentiment shared by members of the Cobham Club, well known for fostering the local game around Northland since the Whangarei-based club’s formation in the 1970s. Its raison d’être is to give former top players a way to share their know-how with the grassroots of cricket. School teams are invited to take them on in matches, while fundraising dinners and the like help to develop facilities and send two Northland-based players on UK cricketing development scholarships each year — such as City’s Ian Page this winter.
Cobham’s line-up will be captained by Northland and ND legend Barry Cooper. He will have at his disposal Ross Kneebone, Dean Potter, Tim Anderson, Darron Goodwin, Brett Robinson, Murray Coop, Richard Johnstone, Bert Horner — all of whom have played first-class or Northland rep cricket; and Northland Cricket Association general manager Warren Marr, who played Hawke Cup cricket for Wanganui. Scholarship recipient Ian Page, a Northland and ND A cap, completes the line-up.
The Twenty20 game will start at 1pm with spectators welcome to bring a picnic to send off summer on the Cobham Oval embankments.