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The first mention of the game of cricket in the seemingly unlikely central European country of Croatia dates back to the start of the 19th century. At this time, the British naval officer Captain William Hoste and his troops, stationed on the Croatian island of Vis, played cricket on the island during their spare time as a means of relaxing and maintaining morale. After Captain Hoste and his men left the island, the game of cricket left along with them, and it was not for almost another two centuries that the spirit of the game was rekindled in Croatia.
After Croatia gained independence and successfully defended its sovereignty in the War of Independence, during the early to mid-1990s, the opportunity for many of the nearly four million Croats living outside Croatia to return to their homeland presented itself. Many of those who returned to Croatia grew up in places like Australia, New Zealand and South Africa where the game of cricket was an integral part of life, albeit not amongst the Croatian émigré communities in those countries.
When the idea to form a cricket club in Croatia was born, the founders did not have any proper cricketing equipment or any training facilities. Nevertheless, the passion for the game was so instilled in a small group of enthusiasts that they decided to start playing cricket in Croatia even though most had not played highly competitively in their 'countries of origin'.
The first-ever match played by a Croatian side was a friendly match played against Ljubljana Cricket Club from neighbouring Slovenia, in 1998. Soon afterwards, Zagreb Cricket Club was founded as the first cricket club in the country, and started to play regular friendly matches with clubs from neighbouring countries.
The Local Scene
The development of the game in Croatia could not progress without more matches being played domestically. This possibility was given a tremendous boost when the first club secured a location to build a cricket oval in a prime location in the country's capital city - adjacent to the Physical Education faculty and the Mladost Sports Centre.
The efforts to develop and promote cricket in Croatia were recognised by the ICC and in late 2001 gained Affiliate Member status.
Since the Mladost Oval was built in 2002, it has played host to local club matches, friendly matches with touring sides from several European countries, and also the ECC Representative Festival in 2002.
The founding of Zagreb Cricket Club in Zagreb also proved a big boost for local cricket and public awareness for the game is continually increasing. In 2003, two more clubs were formed on the island of Vis, one being named after the pioneer of cricket on that island (Sir William Hoste CC).
Vis has the ideal climate and lifestyle for cricket, where it can be played all year round, and already it has surpassed Zagreb in terms of registered player numbers, particularly where juniors are concerned.
In 2004, Dabrovi CC formed a cricket club in the town of Ivanic-grad just outside of the capital Zagreb.
Also a group of enthusiasts formed a club in the city of Split called Oliver CC as well as developing permanent playing facilities.
Progress continues to be made - with the help of ICC Europe - evidenced by the inaugural Budenec International Junior Cricket Festival in June 2010, which hosted teams from Hungary and Slovenia.
The International Scene
The first-ever Croatian national cricket team participated in the five-team ECC Representative Festival held in Austria in 2000, and finished a with a 2-2 record, including victories over Austria and Slovenia.
The good result earned an invitation to the ECC Trophy, also held in Austria in 2001. Unfortunately the team was unable to repeat the performances from the previous year, albeit in stronger competition, and the final result was a disappointing ninth position.
In 2002, Croatia had the honour of hosting the ECC Representative Festival, and proved to be a very gracious host - with the visiting teams getting the better of the home side in all matches. Nevertheless, the occasion was an important one for raising public awareness of the game.
In 2003, the team participated in the ECC Notts Sport Trophy in Austria, against the best Affiliate Member countries and despite a spirited performance came out of the tournament with only one victory and several very close results.
In 2004, Croatia participated in the Representative Championship held in Ljubljana Slovenia and took first place with five straight victories.
The ECC Euro Affiliate Championships 2005 in Belgium was Croatia's sixth ECC tournament on the trot, managing to finish seventh out of nine competing nations to avoid relegation from this European third division.
2007 was a historic year for the Croatian national team as it claimed the ICC European Division 3 championships, held in Belgium, with a five-out-of-five win ratio.
Later on in 2007, it travelled and played the first international cricket match against Israel in a playoff-relegation match and successfully won the match to enter ICC European Division 2.
In the following year, Croatia took part in the ICC European Division 2 Championship, held in Guernsey, but unfortunately it failed to win a game. As a result, it faced another play-off match with Israel to decide which team claimed the final spot in the 2010 ICC European Division Division 2 Championship. Israel won a rain-affected match on this occasion, meaning Croatia's next international participation will be in the 2011 ICC European Division 3 Championship.
Twenty20 experience has also recently been gained through an 'A' side competing in a Euro Twenty20 tournament.