Cricket debuts in Serbia
On June 5 2009, the first cricket match in the history of Serbia took place in the picturesque village of Karlovčić, some 20 miles from Belgrade. At stake was the Meridian Bet Belgrade Trophy, played between a Belgrade Cricket Association XII and Carmel & District CC, from Flintshire, North Wales. The guests won, having scored 175 all out versus the hosts 107, but the competitive nature of the match demonstrated that cricket has future in this small Balkan state.
The Belgrade team consisted primarily of local players with only three expatriates, from England, India and Pakistan respectively, and all the Serbian players learned the game only within the last year. Nevertheless, the pace of the trio of Belgrade fast bowlers (Dajč, Pantelić, Bulj), combined with the spin and swing of the expats (Sarang, Muhammad, Bancroft), managed to dismiss the visitors before the 40th over for a score of 175; a fairly achievable target. However, the second innings of the match showed that experience is an extremely valuable asset in cricket. The Serbs were unconvincing with the bat and only Sarang (38), Muhammad (38) and Ninkovic (8) managed to pile-up some runs, which were enough only for an honorable defeat. In the Welsh side, the best players were Marshall (52), Van Es (37 not out, plus two wickets taken), followed by an excellent bowling performance from the Abraham brothers, Andrew and Timothy, with four and three wickets, respectively.
After several unsuccessful attempts, cricket was finally officially established in Serbia in October 2007, when ex-rugby league players and team-mates, Haris Dajč and Vladimir Ninković, decided to found the first cricket clubs in Belgrade: Stari Grad and Mirijevo. Haris says: "Through some friends from the UK and Australia, we learned the basic rules and cricket suddenly felt appealing. We wanted to practice it but there were no clubs in Belgrade. So, we decided to take things into our own hands and founded our own clubs“. Fortunately, we got in contact with a guy from Mumbai, then living in Belgrade, who helped us with the first cricket steps. The first equipment was bought in January 2008, during spring and summer we managed to hold two trainings a week, where we basically played short matches with the people from the Indian and British embassy and some other expats. In January of 2009, having gathered more locals, the Belgrade Cricket Association was founded.
This spring we started holding serious training sessions three times a week, and eventually doubled the number of members. In April, Mr. Dajč and Mr. Ninković visited the ICC-Europe and spoke to the regional development official Mr. Richard Holdsworth, who was extremely satisfied with their efforts. On June 5, the first match took place in the village of Karlovcic, against Carmel & District CC, which our team, with only three expats in it, lost but we were delighted with our performance. The match received extensive media coverage. The most important TV stations, newspapers and news agencies were interested and some of them were even present at the ground.
At the moment a new club in Čačak, a town in western Serbia, is being established and there are plans to form a Serbian National Association by the end of the current year. In addition, the first domestic season is due to start on August 16 and both a 40 over and Twenty20 championships will be played by the 17th October. Three clubs will participate and the limit will be three expats in each.
Therefore, cricket in Serbia easily gains its place between other well established sports and we hope that from 2010, our national team will take part in regional and European competitions. For more information please visit our website - www.serbiacricket.com.
George Binoy is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo