Throughout 51allout’s near two-year tenure at the bottom of the gin-obsessed cricket blog rankings (you can see our early articles using the archive button to the right), several recurring themes have pervaded across our different failed attempts at journalism. The relentless fall of Saj Mahmood has popped up a few times, along with regular looks at Liam Plunkett. And yes, he still looks a bit like the Honey Monster. But one thing that we’ve enjoyed more than any other has been making cheap jokes about Samit Patel’s weight, fitness and penchant for eating whole family-sized buckets of KFC. Yes, it’s cheap comedy, but so was Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace, a modern classic if ever there was one.
Of course, Samit isn’t the first player to have issues with completing the bleep test. Or touching his toes. Or even seeing his toes, come to think of it. Before him came Ian Blackwell, a man who still managed to get a shot at Test cricket (albeit a very short and unsuccessful one). But going even further back there was a man who made being a jolly fat guy into an artform, while still actually being pretty decent at this cricket malarkey:
“The best death bowler I have ever seen” – Wasim Akram
The 1999 World Cup is fondly remembered for several reasons. There was the utterly mental tied Australia/South Africa semi-final, providing the definitive image of South African choking. There was also the small matter of Dave Stewart’s legendary song, All Over The World, which was released just after the host nation (England) had crashed out in the first group stage. Obviously no-one with even an inch of common sense actually bought it.
As well as these era-defining events, there was also the era-defining sight of Ian Austin trundling to the wicket to open the bowling for England in their first match, a comfortable win against Sri Lanka. England’s attack from that day is the stuff of Unlikely Lad legends: Gough, Mullally, Ealham, Adam Hollioake and Austin himself. Despite taking a pretty decent 2/25 from his 9 overs, it would be Austin’s penultimate international appearance, his final game being another comfortable win, this time over Kenya.
In fact, it was only when Austin was left out of the side – to be replaced by Gus Fraser – that things started to go wrong for England. They were thrashed by South Africa and India and were eliminated on net run rate barely a fortnight after the tournament started. It basically summed up England in that era – jumbled selections, a lack of a coherent strategy and a fondness for randomly picking flavour of the month players from county cricket and hoping they worked out.
That Austin was one of the flavours of the month was perhaps no surprise, with him having been named as one of Wisden’s Cricketers of the Year for 1998. Remarkably, he wasn’t even the fattest winner that year – Arjuna Ranatunga being another recipient. Presumably substantial scaffolding was required to support the podium. Austin’s performance in the Natwest Trophy final, where he finished with remarkable figures of 3/14 from his ten overs, was the deal clincher, leading Lancashire to a cup double (along with the old Sunday League).
By this stage, Austin’s reputation was that of the supreme death bowler, hence the remarkable quote above. That’s the same Wasim Akram that played international cricket alongside Waqar Younis for the vast majority of his career. That’s Waqar Younis of the 789 international wickets, 253 of them clean bowled. Yes, that Waqar Younis.
Of course, unlike Waqar Younis, Austin’s county cricket style was entirely unsuited to international cricket. He finished his international career with just 6 ODI wickets at 60 (plus 34 runs at 6.80), hardly impressive figures. But an impressive figure wasn’t ever really part of Austin’s game; he returned to playing for Lancashire and retired in 2003, a cult hero to the Old Trafford locals. Plus he became a gold card holder at his local Greggs, the true pinnacle of sporting achievement.