former England bowler Ian Austin converts

were England’s new ball bowlers in the opening match of the 1999 World Cup? It is a trivia question that is often asked at annual dinners or functions at cricket clubs in England, especially in the Lancashire County. Darren Gough is the unanimous first choice, but what about his bowling partner?

“They tend to always get Goughy. Then you generally find plenty of discussion in the room. After a couple of moments most just pull out their phones and find the answer.” says Ian Austin, the man who did share the new ball with Gough in their opening match against Sri Lanka.

File image of former England bowler Ian Austin. ReutersFile image of former England bowler Ian Austin. Reuters
In his playing days, Austin was a cult hero, a classic England seam bowler that moved the ball both ways with minimal pace. Those on the county circuit will tell you he could be distinguished from afar largely due to his unlikely sporting figure.

Now 52, Austin is a salesperson for a local brewery. But it is his secondary business that sets him apart from other cricketers. Austin runs a website which has a set of sporting memorabilia that he gathered during his playing span of 20 years and auctions the accessories at sports club functions and annual dinners.

“I had lot of testimonials at the back-end of the career, so I had a lot of stuff left over. At that time, I was working at a sportswear company as a salesman, so I gathered all the collectibles from my matches and put them in the showroom,” he told Firstpost.

“We had clubs that came to us and asked the company if they could use the material for fundraisers and annual dinners. That was the way it started and I’m glad it is helping cricket clubs”

Austin’s business goal is simple. He reserves a price on the item before the auction and whatever the clubs get from the fundraisers are kept by the cricket or sporting association.

“This is my side business, I’m just trying to help clubs out, really,” he says. So has there been a time when a memorabilia item has exceeded the reserve price alarmingly? “Yes, I recall a ‘Freddie’ Flintoff match ball from Lord’s where he got five wickets. Some of the stuff has gone for thousands and we cringed because we let it go for hundreds. But it helps the clubs out in cricket so there is a satisfying side to it.”

Amongst all the treasured items are the autographed caps from each of the captains from the 1999 World Cup, a signed bat from World Cup-winning Australian team and a bank note of each country that represented at the World Cup that is signed by each captain. Well, almost every captain.

“It was just an idea that came to my mind one night. I wanted to do something totally different. I managed to acquire the caps and the notes thing was purely spontaneous.

“My sister worked at the bank so she got me all the bank notes. I had a problem getting Zimbabwe, but Eddo Brandes was a close friend of mine, so he managed to get me one and then Alistair Campbell signed it.”

“The only one I’m missing is the Sri Lankan. I had the note and I sent it in the dressing room along with the cap and shirt with Muttiah Muralitharan, whom I had played with at Lancashire. The caps and shirts came back and (Arjuna) Ranatunga must have thought I was paying him, so he slipped the banknote somewhere and denied he ever had it,” he says with a laugh.

Austin cherishes a lot of memories from the 1999 World Cup, from taking the new ball in the opening match, playing against some of the best players and euphoria of playing for England. He also recalled the funny off-field tales that would simply be non-existent in the modern game of fitness regimes, curfews and spotlight of social media.

“We came back from a game one night and decided to go out to paddock, running about, trying to rugby tackle a sheep. These are things we could do after a few drinks in the early hours of the morning,” he says with a smile.

“The game has changed a fair bit. In my day, you just got on with it — you didn’t have to worry about if I could pass the bleep test or what are my hydro levels or so forth. You had to get up and bowl those 20 overs in a day, it was your job.”

Austin is still connected with the game at the grassroot levels and has a genuine concern for the development of the game.

“The participation has dropped. There are just so many alternatives these days and youngsters are simply not dedicated to playing cricket every Saturday.”

Austin however, is trying his best to try to support the clubs financially by his own goods and memorabilia business. On top of that, he has a daily job of being a beer salesman.

“It (his job) has its perks and frustrations.” Frustrations? “You are travelling around with a beer in the car and the rules forbid you from drinking and then driving,” he says bursting out in laughter.