When New Zealand Croatia and Northern Districts’ Northern Maori cricket teams face off for the first time on Sunday, it will be the beginning of an annual rivalry between two groundbreaking Kiwi sports teams…
The teams, each with a unique cultural focus, are set for an inaugural Twenty20 doubleheader at Auckland’s Colin Maiden Park on November 17.
With both sides coming off an unbeaten away series against the Cook Islands’ national team in the off-season, and sporting a mix of district, representative, premier club and international players, the stakes are on to prove who will take maiden bragging rights.
New Zealand Croatia has named a strong squad that includes two first-class cricketers – the Auckland Aces’ Dušan Hakaraia and Northern Districts’ Joseph Yovich, together with three New Zealanders who have represented Croatia at ICC international level in Europe: captain John Vujnovich, his brother Paul Vujnovich and wicketkeer Tony Govorko.
One-Day and Twenty20 International all-rounder Anton Devcich is also a committed member of the New Zealand Croatia squad but is unavailable as he is on tour with the Blackcaps in Sri Lanka.
As a player with both Maori and Croatian heritage, Hakaraia was in the unique position of being eligible for both sides. The talented right-hander represented Northern Maori two seasons ago, setting a Northern Maori record of 80 in their annual Twenty20 clash with Waikato University, while Sunday’s fixtures will be his New Zealand Croatia debut against his old team.
Says Yovich, “Dušan will certainly come in handy if there is any banter to be translated! It’s the beginning of a tradition that we are all very much looking forward to – and has been a long time in the planning.
“We were all set to play our first match against Northern Maori at Hamilton’s Seddon Park two seasons ago, until rain prevented us getting underway on the day.
“We share a lot of common cricket goals. Both teams have a strong heritage focus and enjoy sharing the culture and traditions that we keep alive through cricket; both teams expect and deliver high standards of play – and we are all thoroughly committed to providing an additional pathway towards sporting achievement for promising young players by organising and providing opportunities to play in highly competitive fixtures such as we will see on Sunday.
“While we are selected from a wide geographical area, many of us also share a strong familial connection to the same regions in the upper North Island. Historically places like Northland often saw Maori and Croatian families working side by side in the tough old days of the gumfields.”
Spectators are welcome, with free entry to Auckland’s Colin Maiden Park for both games. Start times are 10.30am and 2pm. New Zealand Croatia will also play the star-studded New Zealand Cricket Players Association (NZCPA) Masters XI a week later, on Sunday November 24, at North Shore’s Devonport Domain.
New Zealand Croatia squad v Northern Maori
John Vujnovich (captain) Auckland/Sucuraj
Brad Bennetto Northland/Vrgorac
Craig Borich Auckland/Podgora
Jason Brajkovich Auckland/Zivogosce
Tony Govorko (w) Hamilton/Vrgorac
Dušan Hakaraia Auckland/Mala Duba
Daniel Marsic Auckland/Vrgorac
James Piskulic Counties Manukau/Novi Vinodolski
Dominic Smith-Hodgson Northland/Vrgorac
Matthew Vujcich Auckland/Vrgorac
Paul Vujnovich Auckland/Sucuraj
Joseph Yovich Northland/Dubrav