IT'S great when the chance comes up to interview one of your great local sporting heroes - and such was the case when I recently went along to the Worcester home of Martin Horton.

He was the popular and talented opening batsman and off-spinner for Worcestershire in the 1950s and 60s and was one of an extremely rare breed in the past 50 years - a truly home-grown player, who was born, brought up and educated in the Faithful City!

Martin scored more than 20,000 runs and took in excess of 800 wickets for Worcestershire and twice played for England alongside such legendary team-mates as Peter May, Colin Cowdrey, Fred Trueman, Brian Statham, Godfrey Evans and Ken Barrington.

He later spent 17 years as New Zealand's national cricket coach and is now chairman of the influential cricket committee of Worcestershire CCC.

But more of Martin's illustrious cricketing career later. First let's take a look at his family and sporting pedigree.

Sixty-six years-old Martin knows little about his forebears except that his great-grandfather on his father's side, Tom Carr, was a Master of Hounds and a country squire in Nottinghamshire, and that previous generations of his mother's family, the Sillitoes ran a saddlery shop in Broad Street, Worcester.

Martin's father, Jack Horton, was a leading English boxer and was Heavyweight Champion of the Midlands in the 1920s. However, he bowed out of the ring when he married Muriel Sillitoe, whose parents kept the Foresters Arms pub in Chestnut Walk, Worcester.

With his wife, Jack too went into the licensed trade, first running the Crown and Anchor pub in Hylton Road, and then the Duke of York pub in Angel Place. And it was there that Martin was born in 1934, joining the only other child of the family, his sister Joan.

In 1937, the Hortons moved to the Foresters Arms, where Jack began a 24-year stint as landlord.

Childhood memories for Martin include the war years when the Foresters Arms had to close about three nights-a-week for lack of beer.

"My parents kept a holiday home - a large black and white cottage alongside the Teme and close to the Fox at Bransford - and we would all go out there on our bikes to stay for three nights-a-week, taking large Bulmers' cider bottles full of water with us because there was no running water."

Though retired from the ring, Jack Horton continued to take an active interest in boxing and ran boxing clubs, first at the Duke of York and then at the Foresters Arms. He held a boxing manager's and trainer's licence and, among leading local boxers he trained, were Sid Band, Jack Smith (sparring partner of Bruce Woodcock), Geoff Heath, Gill Messenger and a colourful character, Eddie Harris, whose lorry could regularly been seen about Worcester with "Here Comes Eddie" emblazoned on the front, and "There Goes Eddie" on the back.

As a boy, Martin played in the Arboretum area and says he was very much "an Arbo kid." He went to the nearby St Mary's School, then St George's C of E school and finally to the Sacred Heart College at Droitwich.

His first sporting love was skittles and aged just nine, he was chosen to join the Albert Hall team based at the Foresters Arms.

"It was all a bit complicated because someone so young was not allowed in pubs. I could never go into the bar and always had to stay alongside the skittle alley. And on away games at other pubs, I had to rely on team members to bring through a bottle of pop and a packet of crisps for the little lad in short trousers!"

Martin believes he is the only founder member still playing for the Albert Hall team, which in recent years has moved to the Heenans Club.

Up to the age of 12, he had no interest in cricket, but this all changed in 1946, when his father's friend, John Gilmour took his son, Roy, and Martin to the New Road Ground to watch Worcestershire play the Indian touring side. Little could Martin have dreamed then that 13 years later he himself would be playing for England against India in Test matches!

"On that day in 1946, I really caught the cricket bug and began playing in the back yard of the Foresters Arms, using all sorts of balls - golf balls, tennis balls, cricket balls and simple chunks of wood. Customers had to cross the back yard to get to the pub's toilets and many of them would stop to bowl to me. Alas, so many of the pubs windows got smashed during these sessions that my father had to board up those around the back yard."

Martin first took to proper cricket pitches when he was picked for the school team at the Sacred Heart College, turning out for three seasons - but then came his chance to make cricket his career.

"Past Mayor and Worcestershire CCC committee member, Bill Bird was a friend of family and told my father: 'If he's that keen, I can get him a job at the New Road ground'. Thus it was that just before my 15th birthday in 1949, I left school and began working on the ground staff.

"I was only a 'gofer' to begin with, fetching tea from a caf in Bridge Street, rolling the outfield and selling score cards. My princely pay was 10 shillings a week."

However, the opportunity suddenly cropped up one day, for him to make his New Road debut as a player.

"Northants turned up one man short for a Minor Counties game against Worcestershire Seconds, and as I was the only player around, I was drafted into the visitors' squad. I was put in at number10 and well remember how Worcestershire bowler Len Blunt kindly sent down a little half-volley, which I was able to push through the covers in order to finish two not out."

Also in 1949, Worcestershire opened an indoor cricket school in a converted Pickfords' warehouse at Britannia Square.

"With a pay increase to £1, I was sent along to help out and to be a net bowler. I quickly learned a great deal about cricketing skills. The coaches were Reg Perks and Norman Whiting, and I would always listen intently to the tips they gave the young players."

In 1950, and at just 16, Martin was picked by skipper Ron Bird to play his first game for Worcestershire Seconds.

"It was against Warwickshire and I scored 89 not out in the second innings - a feat which got me my first write up in the News and Times. I've still got the cutting."

Martin's cricket "apprenticeship" continued in 1950 and 1951, when he played for Stourbridge, in the Birmingham League.

"The club's major pro was Dick Howorth, who had recently retired from the Worcestershire team, and other young players with me were Peter and Dick Richardson and Norman Whiting. Among Birmingham League pros at the time were retired international players such as George Headley and Alf Valentine."

Martin also turned out for a special County Nursery Team set up at New Road by county coach George Platt.

The 1952 season saw Martin's entry into first class cricket, though his debut with Worcestershire was not auspicious. He got a duck against Oxford University, but in his first county championship game against Lancashire he was to claim his notable "scalp" - the wicket of England opener Cyril Washbrook.

"I was bowling little in-swingers at the time and got him caught at backward short leg by Don Kenyon. I was totally worn out by the end of the day having bowled 22 overs and taken one for 90."

He played about 20 games for the county that season, showing considerable promise, but his career with Worcestershire was then interrupted for two years by National Service in the RAF. However, his cricket did not cease because he was regularly chosen to play for the RAF and also for the Combined Services team, most notably against the 1953 Australian touring team which included such great players as Neil Harvey, Arthur Morris, Ray Lindwall, Richie Benaud and Keith Miller.

"Combined Services team-mates included Fred Trueman, Brian "Bomber" Wells and Ingleby Mackenzie, and in the first innings against the Aussies, I went in at number six or seven and scored 45.

"However, in the second innings I was promoted to opener and was bowled comprehensively in Lindwall's first over. As I passed Keith Miller on the way back to the pavilion, he advised me 'Never forget, young man, the new ball swings!' Miller later knocked up a bumper 262 in that match."

Martin returned to the Worcestershire team in 1955, under Reg Perks as captain and was to achieve his career best bowling performance in the opening game against the South African tourists. He took nine wickets for just 56 runs in the South Africans' second innings having got two wickets in the first.

The year 1956 brought a match of a different kind for Martin - his marriage to his long-time sweetheart Margaret Cox, who was "virtually the girl next door." Her parents, Leonard and Lillian Cox lived only yards away in Chestnut Street.

Margaret's grandfather, Joe Cox spent his career in charge of the Men's Department at Russell & Dorrell's store, while her father spent his working life as a confectioner with Blackfords, the bakers in High Street.

Now a 93 year-old widower, Leonard Cox still lives in the Chestnut Street house which has been his home for all but two years of his life.

The Hortons' wedding was at the nearby St Mary's Church in Sansome Walk, where Margaret's father had been a choir boy.

Their first home was a 33ft long caravan but they later moved to a house next to her parents in Chestnut Street and then to a property in Ellis Road, off Bromwich Road.

Back on the cricket field, Martin remained a late middle order batsman, coming in after Peter Richardson, Don Kenyon, Bob Broadbent, Laddie Outschoorn, George Dews and Dick Richardson. He was also fully used as an off-spin bowler.

It was when Peter Richardson left the County that Martin was promoted to opener with Don Kenyon - a successful opening duo which was to continue for several seasons to the end of Martin's career with Worcestershire.

"In all the many innings I shared with Don, I never once ran him out, and I was only run out once when we tried a very ambitious third run."

Elevation to the international arena came "totally out of the blue" in 1959.

"None of the newspapers, nor pundits, had mentioned me as a possible England player but the call suddenly came through for me to join the England team to play India. I batted in the middle order and scored 58 but had only one innings as we won the Test convincingly.

"I was also picked for the next Test and though I failed with the bat in the only innings I had, I took a couple of wickets. Alas, five of us in that twice victorious England team were then surprisingly dropped."

A wicket from one of those Test matches has pride of place among the cricket souvenirs in Martin's study.

When Jack Horton died in 1961 his wife continued to run the Foresters Arms for a further three years, before retiring to live with daughter Joan in the family's country cottage at Bransford.

Memorable milestones continued to be reached in Martin's career on the field. He did the hat-trick against Somerset at Bath, taking 13 wickets in the match. He twice did the double, scoring more than 1,000 runs and taking over 100 wickets in a season in 1955 and 1961.

In fact, he was the last opening batsman to achieve the double. In the 1959 season, he notched up a bumper 2,468 runs and, in 1962, achieved his highest first class score of 233. This was at New Road in a 314 third wicket partnership with Tom Graveney which took the county to a massive 520 for three declared.

The feat remained the county's record third wicket partnership for more than 30 years until overhauled by Graeme Hick and Tom Moody.

Martin considers his best batting performance to have been his innings of 120 at the Oval against the very formidable Surrey bowling line-up of Laker, Lock, Loader and the Bedser twins.

He feels his best bowling feat to have been six for 42 against Middlesex, bringing off a surprise county victory when the opposition needed only just over 100 to win.

Winters took Martin to a variety of off-season jobs - on the farm of friend Bill Yardley at Ombersley, to Kay's warehouse in Bromyard Road, selling cars with Carmichaels and going round farms selling hop pockets and other equipment for Tom Winwood.

Naturally, Martin says it was an immense privilege to have been a member of the Worcestershire team which first won the County Championship in the club's centenary year of 1964. It was a triumph repeated the following season, which was also Martin's benefit year.

However, it was around this time that Martin suffered a severe injury which was to sound the death knell of his playing career with Worcestershire, at the age of only 32. He was struck on the pad by a fierce delivery from a Kent fast bowler and suffered a broken knee cap. He continued playing for about three seasons but was often in pain and visibly limping on the field, unkindly tagged by team-mates as "Jake the Peg".

Wanting to stay in cricket, he pondered whether to go in to umpiring or coaching. He was already treasurer of the Worcestershire Coaching Association and had undertaken coaching assignments including one of five months in Argentina.

Then, at the end of the 1966 season, he spotted an advertisement seeking a New Zealand National Director of Cricket Coaching. He applied, was given the five-year contract at an interview at Lords, and sailed off to a new home in Auckland with wife Margaret and daughter Shelley.

With contract renewals, he was to be New Zealand's national coach for 17 years, not only involved with the country's Test team but constantly flying up and down New Zealand to help develop cricket coaching schemes.

Though he modestly claims no credit, it was during his time that New Zealand went 10 years without losing a Test series at home. The team at that time included Richard Hadlee, Bevan Congdon and Glenn Turner - the star batsman who had eventually succeeded Martin as Worcestershire opener. Incidentally, Martin also made the overtures for New Zealander John Parker to join Worcestershire for several successful seasons during he which he "invented" the reverse sweep.

In a warmer climate, Martin's knee injury much improved and he played club cricket in and around Auckland and also joined the Northern Districts team for four seasons, two as captain. Martin "very much enjoyed" his 17 years in New Zealand and was offered a five-year extension of his contract but nevertheless felt the need to return home to Worcester. He was 50 and his mother and sister Joan had both recently died of cancer.

"Roly Jenkins had spotted an add for a coach at Eton College and wrote off on my behalf, but Margaret and I decided we wanted to stay in Worcester, particularly as we had moved into the cottage at Bransford and Margaret's parents in Worcester were getting on as bit.

"By good fortune, I was then approached by Tom Savage, headmaster of the Royal Grammar School, who said they had just built an indoor cricket school, and were looking for a coach. Was I interested? I obviously said 'Yes.' "

He was to remain as WRGS cricket coach until retiring in 1996 and took the school teams on three overseas tours - to Zimbabwe, Kenya and Malaysia. Among the WRGS pupils he coached was Dean Headley, son of Ron Headley and now "a very fine county and Test bowler."

Martin is still coaching youngsters around the country during the summers now.

In 1986, the then chairman Duncan Fearnley suggested that Martin should join the Worcestershire CCC Committee, and he was duly elected. He has been on the committee ever since and has been chairman of the Cricket Committee for the past two seasons, a job which carries the responsibility for team selection with county coach Bill Athey and the captain.

Martin and Margaret Horton now live in Friesland Close, Worcester, while daughter Shelley's home is at Northwick Lane. Besides family and cricket, Martin's other great love is opera. He has a vast collection of opera videos and is especially fond of Wagner's Ring Cycle.