x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

South-African born all-rounder in search of national treasure with Italy

Italy will hope he replicates his first-class run in the World Twenty20 Qualifier, writes Paul Radley.

Gareth Berg, seen here in action for Middlesex in Abu Dhabi two years ago, is optimistic about Italy's chances. Galen Clarke / The National
Gareth Berg, seen here in action for Middlesex in Abu Dhabi two years ago, is optimistic about Italy's chances. Galen Clarke / The National

Italy may be one of international cricket's lesser known quantities, but the credentials of one of their players are writ large – in the form of an intricate motif tattooed on his forearm.

Gareth Berg, an all-rounder who was born in Cape Town, is one of two new recruits Italy have made for this tournament from the higher echelons of first-class cricket.

He may not have played top-flight international cricket, like Michael Di Venuto, who played nine one-day internationals for his native Australia, before switching allegiance to the country of his parents for this competition.

However, Berg still has one notable claim to fame: he was the last player to hit Shane Warne for six in a professional match in England.

"When I saw he was taking his cap off to bowl, I had the biggest smile on my face," Berg said, recalling a one-off Twenty20 match between Middlesex and Warne's Rajasthan Royals, who were then the Indian Premier League champions.

"I was standing at the non-striker's end when he came on, and I said to him, 'Listen, it is an honour to be playing against you, I have always looked up to you in cricket, but I am still going to hit you for six before you have finished'. He laughed, then I think I took him for 14 in one over. He patted me on the back and said well played."

His Warne story may have the most mileage, but Berg has written a few other chapters in his cricket story, too.

Having left South Africa to become a club professional in the UK, he was afforded a late crack at first-class cricket when Middlesex offered him a contract to play county cricket at the age of 26.

Last season, he shot the Lord's-based side to promotion to the top division by hitting six, four then six in consecutive deliveries against Leicestershire.

He has a permanent memento of it, in the form of a tattoo which includes three rolling dice, landing on six, four and six, as well as a piano (which he plays in his spare time) and the image of Batman.

Berg, who qualifies for an Italian passport because of his maternal grandparents, is one of a variety of overseas-based players in their squad.

They may be, for the large part, a newly-cobbled together side, but they are united, according to their newest all-rounder.

"I have a lot of love for Italian cricket," said Berg, who had his first training session with his new teammates on Saturday, despite first approaching them to play eight years ago. "There is a lot that can be improve in Italian cricket and I am hoping I can be a big part of that for the next few years.

"In county cricket everyone looks out for themselves. Here everyone is looking out for each other. It is a big family unit and the love for the game is great. They just want to do well for their country."

Italy start their tournament against Oman at the Global Cricket Academy this morning, and are hoping to get their chance to air their victory song.

"We have limited resources and spend a limited time together as a squad, but when we get together for these tournaments we play with passion," Alessandro Bonora, Italy's captain, said.

"We are not a fire-and-brimstone team, we play with discipline and structure.

"If you give us a sniff of a win we love nothing better than a team song to celebrate victory."