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Cricket, Beer And Pizza In Croatia

Life’s a pitch for Angie Aspinall on a Balkan activity holiday

Written by . Published on June 3rd 2013.

Cricket, Beer And Pizza In Croatia

THE mellow sound of leather on willow and cries of ‘Howzat?’  The sun beating down on a relaxed yet jovial crowd of spectators. How quintessentially English. 

But wait, what is that? The ball has just been hit for six into a vineyard. There’s the scent of fennel and wild mint as you walk the boundary and one of the spectators has gone off to pick some oregano just as a Jack Russell has bounded across the pitch to his owner (the wicketkeeper) and a swallowtail butterfly has just flitted by.

Kriket Among The VineyardsBowled over by "Kriket" among the vineyards

We are clearly not in England and, there’s only one place in the world we could be – the Sir William Hoste Cricket Club (or ‘Vis kriket klub’ as they like to call it) in Croatia, where they are holding the second annual Vis International Sixes (The VIS) tournament.

Yes, you did read that correctly: cricket in Croatia. It’s all the rage, don’t you know?  In recent years it has had some interesting exposure in the media, not least from the BBC who sent their ‘Three Men’ – Rory McGrath, Dara O’Briain and Gryff Rhys Jones en route to Venice.  While on the picturesque island of Vis they tried their hand at a spot of cricket under the expert tuition of Craig Wear, Yorkshireman turned Croatian cricketing international and one of the organisers of ‘The VIS’.

It was with Craig and his wife Xania that we stayed while attending the tournament.  Together they run Weareactive, organising activity-based holidays where up to eight guests stay in a beautifully restored old stone property with four en-suite bedrooms and communal spaces in both sun and shade. “Together we explore the Island by sea kayak, mountain bike and on foot and get to share our dinner table with some lovely guests”, says Xania.

Serious Cave KayakingSerious cave Kayaking

While we were there, we got to share one of Xania’s fabulous home-cooked meals with food bloggers from Taste of Croatia Taste of Croatia.

A few minutes into meeting Craig, he asked if either me or my husband (professional underwater photographer, Richard Aspinall) had ever played cricket. I said I’d been to watch county cricket with my grandad when growing up in Derbyshire but I’d never played.  Richard, on the other hand, said he had played at school.

C'mon You PinksC'mon, you Pinks; below, a victory hug Croatian style

Victory HugVictory Hug

“Excellent,” said Craig.  “They’re just the sort of credentials we’re looking for.  We might need you for the ‘Pick up Six’ team.”

We thought no more about it and settled in to life on the island, enjoying the local area around the Wearactive base in Rukavac, visiting the local beaches, the local Konoba (restaurant/taverna) Teraca (which means ‘terrace’ and has a fabulous sea view) and Richard even tried his hand at a spot of sea kayaking. 

We enjoyed a day in Vis town with a delicious meal at Restaurant Pojoda and an evening in Komiza, where we ate delicious pizzas at the beautiful old harbour.  As well as the Italian influence of pizza, like other Croatian islands, many of the local dishes are centred on fresh fish.  Sometimes the fish is simply grilled and served with a locally grown salad but one of the more interesting fish dishes we tried on Vis was Koket (Gurnard) cooked in a peka. A peka is a metal cooking pot with an almost bell-shaped lid, called a cripnja.

Cooking The PekasCooking the pekas

The art of peka, dates back to the Bronze Age and is a method of ‘indirect roasting’ achieved by covering the peka with the embers of a fire made from either oak or wood from the vineyard. The peka is tended over a couple of hours as the fish, meat or octopus slowly cooks.

At Roki's Konoba in Plisko Polje, where the cricket ground is based, gracious host, Oliver Roki’s menu includes red (crno) and white (bijela) wines from his own vineyard which we enjoyed with our vegetarian peka, lamb and potato peka and the Koket cooked with rice, which had absorbed all the lovely juices during the slow cooking process.  At the cricket celebration dinner later in the week, there was also an octopus peka.

Roki's PlaceRoki's place has you over a barrel

Ah, yes, the cricket!  The first sighting of the cricket ground made quite an impression on me: not for any great grandstand or for the luscious, neatly manicured ground, you understand but for the fact that it’s a cricket pitch in a vineyard. 

The fact that this exists at all is impressive.  Flanked on two sides by vines and set on a former World War Two runway, nestles this small pitch, lovingly tended by locals and where a decent batsman can hit a ball for six for it to be never seen again, lost in the nearby undergrowth.

So, what is it that brings people from mainland Croatia, England and as far away as New Zealand to this island 50km off the Dalmatian coast to play cricket on a pitch that has more weeds than grass? Well, partly, it has to be the stunning setting and, for some, it’s partly a serious love of the game but, largely, I think it’s the enthusiasm of Craig, Oliver (aka Roki), and Russell the tournament organisers at Frozen Tomato Events. They had thought of everything and made it so easy for the teams to just turn up and play.

For a modest fee, players receive accommodation in Vis Town, a free shuttle service between the hotel and cricket ground throughout all three days, a guarantee of two matches per day for each of the three days, a player’s shirt, beer, lunches and a celebratory dinner of Roki’s amazing pekas with wine provided this year by sponsors Roxanich wine. Flights from the UK to Split start from under £30 one way and the ferry from Split to Vis costs only a few kunas.

So, how good a player do you have to be to take part?  The answer to this is – not at all!  They even asked if I wanted to play – but, to be honest I think having just five players would be less of a handicap – but, the spirit is one of inclusion – and fun.  That’s not to say that some of the ‘proper’ teams weren’t taking it seriously.  Some players had their own bats and pads and everything but others turned up in their shorts and T-shirts and borrowed the gear provided.

Pico Fields Th EballPiko the pooch playing the field; below, give us our ball back!

Can We Have Our Ball Back Please?

Incidentally, the hosts are called the Hoste’s in honour of Sir William Hoste, a distinguished naval commander whose six-year posting on Vis from 1809 led to the introduction of cricket to the island.  When the British departed, the club was disbanded but the game was revived on the island by Oliver Roki in 2002.

As a spectator, I thoroughly enjoyed my three days of sunshine, beer and laughter watching cricket – both good and not so good – and cheering on the various different teams.  There was friendly rivalry and a bit of good natured banter and celebratory fireworks from the Vis youth team whose matches – and celebrations - were the most exciting to watch – but, all in all, there was camaraderie and sportsmanship. 

I was grateful to Frozen Tomato Events for providing the marquee which gave this English rose some welcome shade and to Roki’s for the beer!
So, if you’re part of a cricket team and fancy a pre-season warm up in 2014 or you’d like an end of season holiday in 2013, you could always contact Frozen Tomato Event. 

Or, if you’d like to pit your wits and skills against the Royal Hotshots (postmen from England), the Chief’s Indians (some Canadian doctors and a Jamaican psychologist now living in Zagreb) or the Dubrovnik Sun Gardeners (from the hotel of that name) and the local Vis teams, why not sign up for The VIS 2014 weekend (the first weekend in May)?

If Richard can round up five friends, I may be there cheering on the Yorkshire Terriers.  If not, he may be back to play again for the ‘Pick up Six’.  Either way,  I can’t think of a nicer place to be next May. 

Some Corner Of A Foreign FieldSome Corner Of A Foreign Field

Photos by Richard and Angie Aspinall

Fact file

Wearactive www.wearactive.com
Frozen Tomato Events www.frozentomatoevents.com
Sir William Hoste Cricket Club: www.viscricket.com
Vis www.visinfo.org

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