Darren Berry’s cricket journey turns full circle!

Former Victorian cricket captain and long term wicketkeeper Darren Berry, who goes by the nickname of ‘Chuck’, loves living on the Mornington Peninsula. He currently lives in Mt Eliza, after a stint initially in Mt Martha, before pursuing his coaching career with South Australia for four years.

“What’s not to love about the Peninsula? Beautiful beaches, outstanding wineries and a great lifestyle,” He says passionately.

In fact, whenever Chuck speaks, he is full of passion. That was obvious when he spoke about the light bulb moment of deciding to move from Melbourne to the Mornington Peninsula.

“I had retired as a player, but was still involved in the game as coach of Premier Team, Carlton, one day My wife Kath and I, with our then baby daughter Jordan, decided to go for a drive. We ended up at a coffee shop in Mt Martha and we both thought wow! This is a nice place, we wouldn’t mind living here. One thing led to another, we’re looking through real estate windows and we bought a house there.”

“When we returned from Adelaide, the plan was always to come back here as our family loved it so much. It has everything we need and we have no plans to move back to Melbourne.”

Berry is also heavily invested in the sporting landscape on the Peninsula as he goes into his second year as coach of the Mornington Cricket Club.

After starting as a young kid with Buckley Ridges when we lived in Doveton, which ‘Chuck’ describes as the Toorak part of Dandenong, He then moved to Wonthaggi as an 11-year-old, “I see coaching at a local level as turning full circle in the game and giving back to the sport, which has given so much to me over a long period of time,” He says proudly.

“There were offers for me to return to Premier cricket this year, but I still felt I had much to do with Mornington, considering I had only been at the club for one season. We’re a young team, with so much potential and at this stage, I have no intention of going anywhere else.”

Berry concedes he’s not sure when the season will start but knows the whole competition with the COVID-19 situation will adapt and be ready to go whenever that might be. “We will have contingency plans in place in regards to training, as we more than likely will have to train in two separate groups at different times, but hopefully the season starts before Christmas.”

Like most people involved in local cricket, Berry believes that the format will be One-Day matches. However, he doesn’t agree with Sorrento skipper Bobby Wilson’s left-field idea, outlined last month in an article with GameFace that the Grand Final should be a best of three series.

“Maybe Bobby has been drinking too much of the Chardonnay,” He says as he laughs heartily. “No seriously, I am not sure it would work, but whatever the association comes up with, we will abide by it. If it is a best of three grand final series and Mornington is there, it would be nice being able to plan for what would be an interesting challenge.”

Talking of challenges, Berry has had a few mentally to deal with in recent years but believes he is currently in good health.

“It has been tough at times, that has had much to do with the death of people close to me. I lost my parents when I was young as my Dad was 50 when I was born. There are 17 years between me and my second youngest sibling. I was 19 when he passed away and early 20s when Mum died a few years later, so to lose both parents quite young was hard.”

Darren Berry keeps for the Vic Bushrangers in a match in 2002 (Image – Tony McDonough)

“However, When my cricket mentor and former club and state coach John Scholes died of a heart attack suddenly in July 2003, and then six months later in January 2004, Victoria’s cricket coach at the time, David Hookes was killed in an incident outside of a St Kilda Hotel, things mentally did begin to spiral.”

“That was a difficult time, but two months later, I captained Victoria to a win in the Sheffield Shield Final at the MCG and I retired. I was 34 and physically I could have continued, but mentally and emotionally, I knew it was time. I realised my dream of playing test cricket for Australia would not eventuate, with Adam Gilchrist ensconced as a Wicketkeeper, and the deaths of ‘Barrel’ (Scholes) and ‘Hooksey’ (Hookes) had taken their toll.

Berry moved onto the next phase of his life, which was being a father. Moving down to the Mornington Peninsula and coaching cricket, which always interested him, as well as dabbling in a media career.

“I love calling AFL Footy, with Triple M, and in recent times, K Rock in Geelong giving me plenty of opportunities. I’ve also commentated some of the test matches last summer on Macquarie Radio with 3AW in Melbourne.”

“In regards to cricket coaching, I liked being in charge at Carlton, where it was left up to you. It was though, the hardest job as you are one man in charge of 50 people. Basically you are the club,” Darren said.

“But I learnt a lot, and then the South Australian job came along after I went to the Indian Premier League as assistant Coach to Shane Warne’s Rajasthan Royals, where we were rank underdogs.”

Darren Berry with cricket legend Brad Hodge

“However, we surprised everyone to win the grand final, and then the South Australian coaching position came along.”

“When I took over SA, they had not won and Sheffield Shield or one-day domestic title for at least 15 years. They seemed more interested in the individual success and which player or person’s name should be recognised with a grandstand named after them. I said bluntly, ‘what about adding to the trophy cabinet for the first time in a while with a one day crown or Sheffield Shield?” He says chuckling.

“We won a one-day final and a T/20 competition in its early days before the Big Bash and were so close to making the Sheffield Shield final two years in a row. That was tough to take, but on the bright side, international players like Kane Richardson, Chadd Sayers and Travis Head all started their careers under me, which I am very proud of,” He Said.

However, Berry’s admits his biggest player discovery was by accident. “We were training on the Adelaide Oval one day and I saw one of the groundsmen, who played club cricket who I knew was an off-spinner. I saw him deliver two balls and couldn’t believe how good he was.”

“I was so excited that I rang our head of cricket, Jamie Cox and told him I have just seen this groundsman bowl his off-spin in the nets and he is that good, I want to play him”.

“Jamie told me not to be stupid, he’s not in the squad, you can’t play him. But I won the battle and six months later, he was playing for Australia and is now an all-time great, having taken 390 test wickets in 96 tests. His name is Nathan Lyon,” Berry says with a big grin on his face.

Nathan Lyon during the 2015 Ashes Test Series.

“The great thing too is that we have stayed in touch, he still calls me coach on the rare times we catch up, as we did at the Adelaide Oval last year. He is a wonderful story in the game.”

Another player who was close to Berry’s heart, who transferred states during Berry’s tenure at South Australia, was Australian batsman Phil Hughes, who left NSW looking for a fresh start to reignite his Test career which had stalled.

Chuck loved him,  they were close. “He reminded me of me, cheeky and confident,” However, Berry said his mental health received it’s biggest jolt in November 2014 at a state game in NSW at the SCG.

Berry remembers that moment, choking back tears, trying to stop his emotions getting the better of him. “We were batting first and Phil was opening and going ok, when all of a sudden, he got hit in the neck by a bouncer.”

“It looked bad straight away, worse than usual, I ran out into the middle and he was motionless. A couple of NSW players walked past me in Brad Haddin and Shane Watson who were shaking their heads and ashen-faced.”

“We got him to the boundary on a stretcher as we waited for the ambulance to arrive, which seemed to take ages, They put a screen around him and there was myself, Tom Cooper and Doug Bollinger trying to comfort him as well as an off-duty Emergency Nurse. We took his cricket gear off and I held his hand but there was no response,” Berry says almost trembling.

Phil Hughes raises the bat for Australia

“This Nurse then put a tube down his throat trying to blow his chest up, but still nothing,” Berry says with his voice trailing away. Sadly Hughes was declared dead two days later.

Berry recalls that was where his time as South Australian coach came to an end. “There is no doubt that contributed to me leaving the coaching role. It was a horrible time, I couldn’t sleep, it becomes a vicious cycle, which leads into one bad day after another and so on.”

“For a while, I questioned my own mortality and went into some very dark places. I wouldn’t answer my friends’ calls. There was no doubt that was my darkest period.”

Darren Berry with Adelaide Striker Tim Ludeman

After much prompting, Berry eventually, although reluctantly, decided to see a psychologist and by his own admission was defensive in the first couple of sessions going in with his arms folded.

“I eventually opened up, he really helped me and I ended up being diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, which affects many people who have suffered loss and have experienced horrible times as I had.”

“With the wonderful support of my wife and kids, I am in a much better space now and generally pretty good and enjoying life, which is where I need to be.” He says with pride.

His face lights up when the conversation turns to his great mate and Australian cricket royalty, Shane Warne.

“Warnie and I knew each other well before our Victorian cricketing days. We played footy at St Kilda but were both too fat and slow to go to the highest level. I played under 19s and he ended up lining up at full-forward in the reserves.”

“He had a great cricket brain and I think, he would have been a wonderful full-time captain of Australia, but of course it did not work out that way.”

Shane Warne in action for the Royals in the IPL

Berry says it was quite ironic that he did some coaching such with the Rajasthan Royals in the IPL. “He always told me that a coach in cricket is what takes the players to the game,” He adds laughing.

“Then he rings me up one day and said, Rajasthan has offered me the coaching job in the IPL and I want you to be my assistant. I told him that he doesn’t believe in coaching. Which he replied back with how they had given him one million reasons to change his mind on that,” Berry says with more laughter.

“As a bowler, he was special. At the start of his Victorian career, he lacked control. The ball fizzed out of his hand, he was wayward. He got picked for Australia against India in January 1992, before he was ready as the selectors were searching.’’

“However, the transformation over the next three years with his control was unbelievable. To be honest, he did not have as many tricks with his deliveries as everyone thought.”

“His leg spinners spun a mile, he did not have a great wrong-un, as he had an ongoing shoulder problem, but for a few years, many of the world’s leading batsmen like Alec Stewart and Darryl Cullinan could not read his flipper, they would play back and be trapped lbw, his control was incredible.”

Berry says his self-belief was amazing as well. “Warnie had a favourite saying, ‘find a way’, and generally he did just that. He was such a competitive beast, always willing his team to win and generally, he would be the match-winner.”

During his fine career, Berry had an excellent reputation as a Wicket Keeper. “My hero growing up was Rod Marsh. I started keeping in a vacant paddock down the end of our street in Doveton, to older kids and standing up to them with my bare hands, loved it.”

“I read books from Alan Knott, former England keeper and Bob Taylor as well. They were all great keepers, but not great bats. Although Marsh and Knott in their prime were more than handy, they were picked in the team as Wicket Keepers first.”

“I have always been a firm believer that you pick six batsmen in a cricket team, a specialist Wicket Keeper, and your four-pronged bowling attack, but the game changed when Adam Gilchrist burst onto the scene,” He says reflectively.

“He was an outstanding batsman, who with a superb work ethic, became a good Keeper as well, but his emergence changed the way a Keeper was perceived in the game, especially at an international level.”

Berry appeals for the wicket of Damien Martyn of Western Australia in 1999. (Image – Hamish Blair)

“I got dropped from the Victorian team in the mid-90s, due to my batting performances struggling, I then went back to club cricket Where I made a couple of centuries. I then returned to the Victorian team, where my batting was more consistent in the second half of my career, but I only averaged low 20s, Gilchrist had an average exceeding 45.”

“All countries have gone down the path of the Batsman that can Keep, rather than the specialist Keeper and I believe it has cost teams games with some bad wicket keeping mistakes, such as dropped catches or missed Stumpings, that does frustrate me.”

Chuck likes what he sees in regard to Wicket Keepers on the Mornington Peninsula, and has done some coaching with young Paddy Rowe, who came from this neck of the woods. “I played some footy with his dad John, so I know the family well,” He said.

“Paddy, after playing some games for the Australian under 19s, went to Melbourne to start his Premier cricket career, he then moved to St Kilda. He is now a Rookie with the Victorian team, which is good news.”

Berry is impressed with his Keeper in Mornington’s first XI in the MPCA, Charlie Parker. “I reckon Charlie could play with Frankston Peninsula in Premier cricket, but we are glad to have him at the Bulldogs,” He says emphatically.

Darren Berry coaching with the Adelaide Strikers

He is also miffed that Parker was not named in the GameFace Provincial MPCA Team of the Year for 2019/2020. That honour went to Tom Hussey, who Berry describes with that trademark cheekiness and humour as a Batsman/Keeper.

“I also like Labrooy at Peninsula Old Boys, and I have enjoyed my time so far at Mornington, watching all the keepers in this competition.”

Darren Berry has had a fabulous cricket journey, which included being added to the Australian touring party for some of the 1997 Ashes Tour, after reserve keeper, Adam Gilchrist suffered a knee injury.

“Kath and I were on our honeymoon in Europe when Cricket Australia asked me if I would like to join the Tour. It took me three seconds to say yes,” he laughs

“The honeymoon ended then and there, but good news for me, the marriage is still going strong 23 years later,” He says with that mischievous laugh.

Mornington Cricket club and the MPCA are fortunate to have a person of Darren Berry’s ilk involved in the game locally and we are lucky to have Darren fit and healthy, passing on his experience and wisdom.

Well played ‘Chuck’, and may you and your family continue to love the Mornington Peninsula.

Check out the full interview with Darren below!

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