The Saturday Interview: Paul Agnew talks to Lancashire and England star IAN AUSTIN

THEY bake pies no'but a six hit from Ian Austin's home - and he is particularly well in with the area's best-known brewery.

The irony is not lost on him.

For, while Ian is an established cricketer of international renown - a regular with both Lancashire and England with a list of honours as long as your arm and a trophy cabinet to match - he has a reputation for being particularly partial to a pie and a pint.

Sometimes in multiple.

The image doesn't bother him unduly - at the moment he is more concerned with planning his richly-deserved testimonial year, a Millennium Benefit recognising a decade of loyal and outstanding service.

He is well aware of how he is portrayed, but he couldn't really care less. So what if the world's Press have a pop every now and again?

"I can live with it," says Ian, who this very week went under the surgeon's knife for a knee operation.

"I'm obviously not the perfect image and build of a sportsman - I'm not six foot tall and 11 stone with a rippling ... whatever. But I've always gone out there and done my job and that's all I've ever concerned myself with.

"I tend to ignore what is said about me on the television and in the papers. I go out and give it my all and see what happens. You look at a lot of these super fit lads now, not just in cricket but other sports too, and they are spending more and more time in the physio's room than out on the pitch. "Take someone like Darren Gough, who is supremely fit. When he joined the Yorkshire staff he was the original burger king! But over the last seven years he's honed his fitness, and he's only played three Test matches this year.

"I do agree that there is a level of fitness you have to be, but I think it's more about being match fit than being able to run marathons."

Born and bred in Haslingden and a resident of Baxenden for the last nine years, he is fiercely proud of his Red Rose roots: "I'm also described as a Lancashire lad, and that doesn't bother me one bit.

"In fact I'm pleased to be thought of as such. When I first joined the Lancashire staff I still went out with the lads in Haslingden and I always said that I hoped that I would never change. Over the years I would like to think that I haven't.

"I still go down to the local and have a pint or two with the lads and I'd much rather be like that than act like some kind of superstar just because I've been on the television a few times. That side of things has never appealed to me.

"In truth I'd be embarrassed to be treated like a star just because I'm paid to play cricket.

"If you think of yourself as a superstar, and people treat you as such, everything changes. People talk to you differently. It's false, all that.

"At the end of the day I'm just an everyday bloke who happens to play cricket for a living." His Dad played cricket for Haslingden and like most young lads Ian played the game at school. Joining the Haslingden junior ranks he went on to have spells at Clitheroe and Accrington.

It is 15 years since Ian first picked up a bat for Haslingden's juniors, 12 years since he made his Lancashire debut and 10 years since he won his county cap.

He has won several England caps and is one of only two players in history to win man of the match awards at both the Nat West Trophy final and the Benson and Hedges Cup final.

In 1990, he scored the fastest first class century, taking just 61 balls. It was, co-incidentally, his first ever century.

He has always been the man for the big occasion, the sort of cricketer with the happy knack of picking up a wicket, taking a catch or scoring a boundary just at the right time.

You might call it talent.

Now, 10 years or more down the line, he looks forward with eager anticipation to his benefit. The preparations have been slightly hampered by a knee op which will keep him off the training pitch until January at the earliest.

"I had my left knee cleaned out on Tuesday but it's nothing serious, just a bit of general wear and tear. "The surgeon told me that everybody suffers from it, but it's exaggerated with being a professional sportsman. I will have to take it easy for a couple of weeks but hopefully I'll be able to start training early in 2000.

"If I'm fairly sensible about it and build up gently I shouldn't suffer any long-term problems and I've got five months before the start of the new season. Time is on my side.

"But a busy year lies ahead for me, what with arranging events for my testimonial.

"My cricket must come first but I have already been through next season's fixtures and pencilled in a few events.

"There are a couple of cricket matches and, because I'm a keen golfer (Ian plays off a five handicap), we've arranged a couple of golf days too."

Converted for the new archive on 14 July 2000. Some images and formatting may have been lost in the conversion.