When one thinks of Split, Croatia they think of glorious Mediterranean sunshine and beautiful beaches, and when it comes to sport most would think about football. The last sport people would associate with this amazing part of the world is cricket, but in June 2016 Split played host to the first edition of Europe’s answer to the glitz and glamour of the Indian Premier League.
Well not quite, but it did host the first edition of the Mediterranean Cricket League, an international twenty20 tournament aimed at boosting the profile of cricket in Europe.
The MCL is the brainchild of Jeff Grzinic, a stalwart of the Perth Cricket Club in WA Premier Cricket and a proud representative of the Croatian national side for many years in the lower reaches of the ICC World Cricket League.
Grzinic, in his role as tournament director, is very passionate about the MCL, Croatian, and European cricket.
“I wanted to create a strong competition where once a year the best Croatian cricketers could play a well organised tournament against some quality opposition to help their development and to give the local players something to aspire to play every year.”
The inspiration for the new tournament came when the ICC stopped running tournaments and cut funding for smaller cricketing nations, such as Croatia and other European countries. This left the Croatian national side without any competitive and official cricket to play and had a detrimental impact on getting the locals involved with the game of cricket.
Grzinic has represented his country of origin since 2003 and with the amount of cricket available to Croatia on the wane he, along with support from the Croatian Cricket Federation stepped up to create a tournament he hopes can rescue the game in his beloved Croatia.
According to Grzinic the first tournament was definitely a success.
“The ICC decision a few years ago definitely slowed the momentum of the CCF and interest seemed to wane a little. Thankfully the MCL has reinvigorated the domestic scene and the locals are playing the game with renewed enthusiasm which is great to see.”
The tournament was hosted by the Sir Oliver Cricket Club Split, who also entered a team and contributed to the running of the tournament along with Grzinic and the CCF. The first edition featured six teams from across Europe and the Ambassadors of Cricket from India who had former Indian Test cricketer Abey Kurrvilla in their ranks. SOCCS were one of two Croatian sides, the other being Zagreb Cricket Club, and they were joined by the Ukrainian national team, the Romanian Bears and Porto Montenegro Cricket Club.
Ukraine defeated the Bears in the inaugural final on June 6 2016.
Most of the funding for the tournament has come from donations, the CCF and SOCCS and while the MCL is an ICC approved tournament there is little to no funding for grassroots tournaments in smaller cricket nations such as Croatia - something Grzinic is hoping to change with the success of the MCL.
“Eventually we would really like to get the ICC on board with hands on and financial support. We feel the tournament we have put together is high class and has enormous potential. Our MCL Ambassador former Australian cricketer Simon Katich has said the MCL is exactly the type of event the ICC should be supporting so it's always nice to get that level of support.”
Running a tournament of this nature is not without its challenges but the first edition showed that the game of cricket could definitely take a hold in Europe.
“European T20 cricket is booming. It's the best way forward for developing cricket in Europe without a doubt. There are lots of teams and players wanting to play in the MCL so getting the teams isn't the hardest part of organising the event,” says Grzinic.
“In the short term the success of the MCL is ultimately judged by the players and teams who pay their money and play the MCL. Over the longer term the aim is to develop and promote Croatian and European cricket; so increasing participation rates in young Croatians cricketers, increasing the skill level of the players and improving local playing facilities are key factors to measure success. We also hope to keep bringing Europe's (and the worlds) best cricketers to Croatia so our players can play against and learn from players of higher standards.”
With the inaugural MCL proving to be a success the CCF and SOCCS have invested in improving the facilities to lift the standard of cricket and provide a better experience for the players at the 2017 edition.
“We are blessed that we have a brand new purpose built cricket ground in the grounds of a fantastic hotel- that makes organising the tournament so much easier as there are less things I need to control,” says Grzinic.
“The cricket ground was redeveloped last year with a new hard wicket put in just days before MCL2016 and the length of the boundary extended on one side by 30 meters with new soil trucked in with new grass. The ground is now far closer to true international size. Hopefully now after a full year the grass will be in even better condition for MCL2017.”
While the Ukraine national side has been unable to return in 2017 there are two new teams joining the MCL for the second edition. Cricket Timis will become the second Romanian side in the twenty20 league and are joined by fellow newcomers Saaremaa Kriketi Klubi from Estonia.
Grzinic hopes the 2017 tournament will be just as big a hit as it was in 2016 and looks forward to the development of cricket in Croatia and Europe.
“The local guys now look forward to the MCL and plan the year around it. The MCL has reinvigorated cricket in Croatian which is what was needed after the ICC dropped the tournaments/funding.
The MCL is gaining traction in the European and world cricket market and I hope that continues and the feedback from those involved has been extremely positive which shows we are doing something right. We want to keep attracting quality teams from around the world and introduce people to Croatia.”
After the initial success Grzinic himself is looking forward to the 2017 MCL getting underway and getting back to playing some cricket on the banks of the Adriatic Sea.
“At the end of the day that's what the MCL is all about cricket. We are looking forward to building on what we achieved in MCL2016 to make MCL2017 even better than the last.”
The 2017 Mediterranean Cricket League will run from June 8-11 at the Sir Oliver Cricket Club Split. The Romanian Bears are favourites to avenge their final defeat and take out the title.
To get involved in any capacity with the get in touch with Jeff Grzinic at [email protected]