The Lost Tribe of Mežica

Think of the first Yugoslav national cricket team and you might not picture a line-up of seven-to 13-year-olds. Nor, in all likelihood, would you conceive of them playing in an alpine meadow in flares. But in 1974, the Slovenian ski town of Mežica (population 3,500) witnessed a sociological phenomenon. Led by Borut Čegovnik, a junior maths champion, 24 boys began a series of dramatic ‘Test’ matches that spanned ten years.

When visiting his pen-pal in Kent for a fortnight, young Borut learnt cricket from Birchington village’s single-wicket champion, Mr. Charles Nash. Determined to spread this new game throughout the Balkans, Borut purchased a bat, six stumps, a hard ball, and returned to Mežica clutching a copy of the MCC Laws of Cricket.

At first his friends were sceptical. “So I told them we were the only cricketers in all of Yugoslavia!” says Borut, now 46, and one of Slovenia’s top cardiologists. At this Borut’s friends decided to ditch football for the summer and take up cricket. Within hours they were claiming spectacular catches.

This was not merely backyard cricket. The boys flattened the grass and stole chalk to mark out every crease. Borut insisted they follow MCC Laws. They gave LBWs, and made no leniency for no-balls or crooked bowling actions. “When something happened, and we didn’t know what it was, we all sat down in the meadow and looked at the rulebook,” says Borut. “My friends sometimes said I was making the rules up in my favour.” Each ball was meticulously recorded. “Even today there are only a few spots in our records where the how-out, name of the catcher, or number of balls faced are missing.”

In his next visit to England, Borut sourced a pair of pads. The boys never wore these because it slowed them down. Aside from sore shins, they faced many other problems over the years. The farmer, on whose meadow they played, was killed when his tractor overturned on the hill. Initially distraught, the boys decided to play on, renaming their tournament in his honour.

Cricket in Yugoslavia

When their only bat snapped during one tournament, it looked like the end of cricket in Yugoslavia. But scoresheets were stored, and Borut just happened to have a friend in neighbouring Austria with a bat. He borrowed it and the tournament resumed weeks later. The bat was never returned.

On another occasion, the ball’s seam came undone. But one player’s father – a sofa-repairman – was able to stitch it back together.

The Mežican boys played late into summer evenings, risking beatings upon their return home. Once, cover point was knocked unconscious attempting a catch. “We never told his parents, but he still managed to hold onto the catch!” says Borut.

Sadly, national service, girls, and university spelled the end of Mežican cricket in 1984. But after learning of an expat club in Slovenia’s capital, Ljubljana, the original Mežican team reformed in 2004. They bowled Poland out for 10. Every player bats left-handed, because that’s how Borut showed them back in ’74.

Angus’s book, Slogging The Slavs: A Paranormal Cricket Tour From The Baltic To The Bosphorus, will be released in the UK in November by Fat Controller and will be available for purchase on Amazon.For more information, see his website .

Comments are closed.