Cricket: Austin happy to take the strain

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IAN AUSTIN is unlikely to be daunted by the pressure to perform in front of a global audience if he plays for England in the opening World Cup match against Sri Lanka at Lord's tomorrow.

For many people representing your country in such a major tournament with only seven international appearances to your name would be a nerve- straining experience at the best of times without being given the added responsibility of possibly bowling at the start and end of the innings.

However, the 32-year-old Lancastrian not only fails to fit the ideal physique for an international cricketer - his rotund build underlines a previously healthy appetite for lager and hot curry - but his life experiences are also at great variance to the average member of the England dressing- room.

While many of his team-mates have either spent their winters touring with England or taking up coaching opportunities overseas, Austin has "filled in" with a variety of different jobs including delivering beds for a Haslingden company and transferring meat from an abattoir to a butcher.

Those experiences have helped Austin develop a down- to-earth approach to his highly successful county career with Lancashire, which has only recently been rewarded by international recognition and being named as one of Wisden's cricketers of the year.

Now, if the England captain, Alec Stewart, decides he is the man to spearhead England's challenge alongside Darren Gough and Alan Mullally, Austin is less likely to become intimidated than other less worldly players.

"People can get worked up by the big occasions, especially as a young player when it's a lot more difficult to relax yourself," he explained.

"I didn't play international cricket until after I was 30, but I've been fortunate to play in quite a few big games at Lord's with Lancashire and I would like to think that's helped me quite a lot.

"I've been playing quite a long time and I've got quite a lot of experience. I'm not overawed by the occasion. I'm not the sort of person to get nervous, although it does get your adrenalin going and I suppose that's one way of your nerves coming out."

Even before the start of the tournament, Austin had already been written off as "old and average" by the Pakistan coach, Mushtaq Mohammed, while Australian critics labelled him as a "village cricketer" when news of his selection filtered Down Under.

Those comments are unlikely to unsettle a player of Austin's temperament although the England coach, David Lloyd, has already sprung to his defence, claiming: "We'll see what a village cricketer can do when the tournament starts in English conditions.

"All you have to do is talk to the other players who have faced him. Whether it's Mark Waugh, Brian Lara or whoever, I can assure you none of them will like playing against him in this sort of cricket."

Austin seems more amused than anything by the fuss his selection has caused, insisting: "It doesn't bother me - I've been called a lot worse than a village cricketer. If we go and win the World Cup what are those people going to say then? If we're village cricketers and very average and we win the World Cup, what does that make them? If you take notice of what other people are saying and doing you just get distracted."

However, he admits that age and experience have caused minor changes to his lifestyle after he discovered that it was a lot harder to lose weight once he had reached his 30s. "I got weighed when we were down in Kent recently and I was just under 16 stones, but I don't know if they were dodgy scales or not," he joked. "Weight has never really bothered me even if it has been a talking point for other people.

"I don't really concentrate on diet or anything like that although I've tried to cut out all the junk food and tried to be a little more choosy about my food. Once you get past 30 it's not as easy to get rid of the weight."

Reports, scoreboard, page 27