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Edward Liddle's Biographies of Irish Cricketers
Ernest Archibald Berger
  • Born 3 December 1839 Hackney, London
  • Died 12 March 1916 7 Auckland Road East, Southsea, Hampshire
  • Educated Winchester College
  • Occupation Army Officer
  • Debut 3 September 1860 v All England XI at Rathmines
  • Cap Number 44
  • Style Right-hand bat, slow round arm bowler, occasional wicket keeper
  • Teams Phoenix, All England XI, Knickerbockers, Vice Regal XI

Ernest Berger was a good upper order batsman said to" hit well all round" whose career in major cricket was cut short by his military duties, which brought him considerable distinction. Educated at Winchester College, which his father had also attended, he was in the XI in the annual match against Eton at Winchester in 1857. We may note here that, until 1854, the match had been played at Lord's as part of a triangular tournament with Harrow, but Winchester's headmaster then decided that the off field activities were unsuitable for schoolboys. However the Winchester 1st XI was - and still is - known as "Lord's". In the match in question, Eton easily outplayed their hosts winning by an innings and 4 runs. Ernest batted at No 3 and was one of the only two Winchester players to reach double figures, his 11 being the highest score in the second innings. That season he headed the batting averages with 25 per innings and was also noted as a very good field, besides being a fair wicket keeper and change bowler.

The College had no magazine at the time and other cricket records are scanty, but Ernest also played for the Commoners XI v the College XI, the latter consisting of Scholars resident in the College. These were the forerunner of House matches. He was also a footballer, though in common with a number of other public schools of the time, Winchester had its own distinctive form of the game, sometimes played with 6 a side and sometimes 22. Again playing for Commoners v Scholars, he also appeared in internal Commoners matches for Prefects v Inferiors. His academic career does not appear to have been particularly distinguished and he left the College sometime in the year after October 1856. His younger brother Arthur, also a cricketer of merit, was in the "Lord's" XI in 1859, taking 7 wickets in the Eton match.

Arthur was also to appear in several Old Wykehamist XIs and was, for a number of years, a prominent club cricketer in Berkshire.

Commissioned in the 2nd Battalion of the 10th Lincolnshire Regiment in 1858 Ernest found himself posted to Ireland the following year where, perhaps because his reputation had preceded him, he was much in demand as a cricketer. However he failed as a batsman in his first major match, for the Military of Ireland against a strong I Zingari side at The Curragh in September. He made only 1 and 2, but did well with the ball, taking 4 wickets in the only IZ innings, including two cricketing clergymen, the fine all-rounder Joseph McCormick and the Vice Regal chaplain WN Creyke. The following year saw him play his only match for Ireland XXII against the famous All England XI. This was a historic game for two reasons, it was the first major game played at Observatory Lane and it was also the first visit of the All England side to Ireland. Led by the great all-rounder George Parr " Lion of The North" and including the leading bowlers in England, Edgar Willsher and Crispin Tinley, they proved far too much for their hosts but Ernest, batting at No 14!, showed his worth, topscoring with a brilliant 21 in the first innings, before being run out, sent back by his partner, when he had the much vaunted professional bowling at his mercy. He had royally entertained the crowd, the biggest then seen at a match in Ireland, and was presented with a magnificent green velvet belt with silver clasps. He had also established himself as Winchester's first international cricketer, blazing a trail for Douglas Jardine and the younger Nawab of Pataudi - among others - to follow!

He had clearly impressed Parr for he now accompanied the Professional XI to England where they played XVIII of Leeds. Ernest failed with the bat but, keeping wicket, made a stumping off the Tinley's crafty lobs.

In England, though only it would seem on leave in 1861, he played for the well-known wandering side Knickerbockers against IZ at Aldershot, making 25 before falling to another military man who had won an Irish cap, Fred Marshall. Both would go on to become generals. Ernest also took the wicket of Spencer Ponsonby, also an Irish cap and a co-founder of the Zingaros.

Back in Ireland in 1863, he played in his penultimate match of which a score has been seen, representing the Vice Regal side against NICC who were on a Dublin tour. This was a low scoring match with bowling, particularly that of the Lord Lieutenant's ADC Henry Awkright, dominating. The hosts began by being bowled out for 99 then Awkright, later to meet his death in a Mont Blanc climbing accident, shot the Belfast side out for 56. Going in again Vice Regal put the result beyond doubt, on a wicket which demanded the attention of non-existent pitch inspectors, by posting 196, owing much to a stylish and quickly scored 34 from Ernest. Awkright Creyke then bowled the visitors out for 74. Ernest's last traceable match, again for Vice Regal, came in 1864 against the touring Yorkshire Gentlemen. He took 3 wickets to help the hosts to victory.

Though he seems to have played little, if any, more important cricket, his life remained full. Promoted Captain in 1864 and Major in 1878, he moved to be a Lieutenant-Colonel in 1881, a full Colonel in 1885, before retiring as a Major General in 1888.

In 1887, he married Margaret Catherine Brerton of Raththurles, Nenagh, Tipperary. Her family home, a large late Georgian farm house type building, is still standing and occupied. They may well have met while he was in Ireland, but the wedding took place in East London, South Africa. They were to have eight children, whose places of birth, show the extent of Ernest's postings, and, it might be added, Margaret's loyalty and determination. Thus while their first child was born on board a ship traversing the Bay of Biscay, others first saw the light of day in, for example, Japan, Malta, Bengal, Gibraltar and Hong Kong! Perhaps, unsurprisingly, Margaret predeceased her husband by some 17 years.

Ernest Archibald Berger died from influenza, leaving almost 19000, a vast sum 98 years ago, in his will. His, brief, obituary is in Wisden 1917.

NB: I am greatly indebted to Suzanne Foster, Winchester College Archivist for her help with the details of Berger's Winchester and military careers.