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Ian Austin reflects on Lancashire career

Ian Austin reflects on Lancashire career

Former Lancashire all-rounder reflects on his playing career

In the final of the 1998 Nat West Trophy, an event in which the team batting first customarily falls to pieces at once, Lancashire found themselves in unexpected trouble.

Rain had delayed play until late afternoon, and the Derbyshire pair, Michael Slater and Kim Barnett, astonished the great Wasim Akram by hitting him and Peter Martin all round Lord's. Then Ian Austin came on to bowl.

If he produced a bad ball, the batsmen never spotted it. He finished with the astonishing figures of 10-5-14-4, and that included four overthrows.

Martin suddenly felt inspired too, and took four wickets himself. Derbyshire collapsed from 70 for nought to 108 all out. On the Sunday, Lancashire completed victory and Austin was voted man of the match, joining the very select list of Asif Iqbal, Vic Marks, Clive Radley, Viv Richards and Robin Smith to have won the awards in both one day finals.

When Austin's name was announced, a very special cheer rang around the remnants of the Lancashire supporters gathered below the Lord's balcony.

It was as though the honour had not gone to one of their players, but to one of them. The next day, Lancashire won the Sunday League competition, and they went on to finish second in the county championship.

It was a memorable summer for Ian Austin – words plucked from the pages of the 1999 Wisden Cricketers' Almanack, when Austin was named one of their five cricketers of the year. It was recognition of a player, then acknowledged to be as reliable a one-day bowler as any in England, and a man with a quiet, uncomplicated approach to the game that always made him a solid fans' favourite at Old Trafford.

His captain at Lancashire, Wasim Akram, once described him as 'the best death bowler I have ever seen', and it is perhaps only now, three years after hanging up his spikes, do we perhaps fully appreciate his true worth to the Lancashire cause.

"It's funny really, because when I joined Lancashire in 1986 I was fairly philosophical about it all, and I just said 'give me a run in the side, and if I don't perform then let me go," said Austin.

"Instead I played for the greatest county in England for 16 years and what a wonderful honour that was. If somebody had said I'd play in eight Lord's finals, winning six of them, lift three Sunday League medals, and bowl Ian Botham out to claim my first wicket in county cricket; then spend the rest of my career pitting my wits against the best batsmen in the world, I'd have expected to be awoken from that amazing dream with a cold bucket of water in my face.

"The thing is, it actually happened, and now I've retired I realise what an enjoyable career I had.

"Trevor Jesty, a fine batsman, who played at Lancashire late on in his career, once told me he never played in a one-day final at Lord's and it was his biggest regret.

"Many fantastic players didn't get that chance. I was very lucky and Lancashire fans were always very kind to me."

Just three weeks before that 1998 Lord's final, Austin had been plucked from the middle of a Roses match at Headingley and brought into the England team for the Triangular Tournament against South Africa and Sri Lanka.

He went with England to Bangladesh and was then named in the 1999 World Cup squad.

"At 32, I thought my time had gone. It was a tremendous honour and a complete surprise. I just thought it was a giant wind-up.

"But there I was, a day later, playing for England against Sri Lanka at Lord's. It was every kid's dream.

"When I got to my room at the team hotel, there was the three lions shirt hanging up behind the door and I felt so proud. There was also a message from Alec Stewart, the England captain.

"It read: 'Good luck, all the best. You're here because you deserve to be here and because you're good enough to play for England.

"We're meeting in the bar at seven o'clock if you want to come and have a drink. No obligations'.

"Being on debut, I thought I'd better do the right thing and go down and say hello to the lads.

"I went down to the bar and the only person who was there was Bob Cottam, the bowling coach.

"He told me to get whatever I wanted because there was a tab behind the bar.

"I ordered a pint of lager, and one by one the rest of the players came in. Same routine for them all.

"A mineral water, a fresh orange juice, a diet coke and so on. By the time we had all sat down, I was the only one with a pint.

"I remember thinking: 'Flippin heck. Nobody said a word, though. And with my reputation, it probably wasn't a surprise to see me tucking into a pint on the eve of my international debut.

"And why not? I had a pint before all my Lord's finals and not done too badly.

"I'm often asked if I was nervous. No, I wasn't. I went out with the attitude that I might never, ever play for England again.

"I bowled well enough, took a couple of wickets, including Aravinda De Silva, and England won the game by 36 runs.

"When I got back to Accrington, the house was full of cards and telegrams. Even the Mayor of Rossendale had dropped me a line.

"I had a letter from across the Pennines, saying: 'Mr Austin, you are an inspiration to league cricketers everywhere.

Born in Haslingden, he cut his teeth playing for the town team, which had built a reputation as the Manchester United of the Lancashire League. Their overseas players have included George Headley, Clive Lloyd and Denis Lillee, and it was not long before Austin created a new amateur batting record, an unbeaten 148.

He was smashing records for Lancashire too, breaking the Sunday League record with 58 wickets. Bully landed his first silverware in 1989, the Refuge Cup, and he played a key role in the 1990 double-winning side, the first county to win both cup competitions in a season.

Lancashire repeated the feat in 1996, and Austin's accurate, swinging deliveries and precious runs were always highly valued. A true line and length was Austin's gospel. In the championship he scored the fastest century of the season in a Roses match at Scarborough in 1991, an innings that had die-hard Yorkshire members on their feet.

The following year he blasted another century against Derbyshire in a stand of 178 with Warren Hegg. He also holds a Lancashire record for the seventh wicket with Graham Lloyd, when they piled on 248 against Yorkshire.

With Austin establishing himself in the Lancashire team, Wasim Akram was already one of the world's leading all-rounders when he walked into the Lancashire dressing room in 1988, the first of his nine years as Old Trafford's overseas player.

"Wasim is a Lancashire cricketing legend and the best all-round cricketer I ever played with.

"He loved Lancashire, and he'd bowl himself into the ground for us.

"On his day he was devastating and everybody responded to his incredible commitment.

"We played Somerset at Taunton, and it was the flattest feather bed of a track I'd ever seen. There was nothing in it for the bowlers, but I remember he just said: 'Let's get going boys, I'll have a bowl'.

"He just blasted Somerset away and afterwards he was so physically exhausted he couldn't play in the Sunday League match.

"We often struggled to get rid of stubborn tail-enders, but not with Wasim around.

"Nine, 10 and jack never had a chance. As soon as we had seven or eight down, we knew we'd be putting our feet up in the tent in a few minutes.

"Yorker, yorker, yorker. Then a high-speed bouncer and a crack on the helmet. Next ball, another yorker. It was so simple in theory, but you need a special type of talent to produce it week in, week out."

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