Essex youngster Beard bows to Sir Alastair Cook in fitness showdown

PUBLISHED: 11:00 08 April 2020

Aaron Beard of Essex (pic Nick Wood/TGS Photo)

Aaron Beard of Essex (pic Nick Wood/TGS Photo)

©TGS Photo +44 1376 553468

Aaron Beard came as close as anyone to ending Sir Alastair Cook’s undisputed, career-long claim to be the fittest man in cricket.

Alastair Cook of Essex (pic Gavin Ellis/TGS Photo)Alastair Cook of Essex (pic Gavin Ellis/TGS Photo)

Cook had never been beaten with either Essex or England in the beep tests used universally to gauge a player’s fitness levels.

The test involves 20-metre shuttle runs, five seconds’ rest, with timed beeps increasing the pace until the participant is forced to admit defeat and drop out.

The chirpy Beard felt confident that he could lower the former England captain’s sails, and challenged Cook when the Essex squad assembled last month for pre-season training.

Beard said: “He said he’d never, ever been beaten in a head-to-head fitness test. And he’s still yet to be beaten.

“I think we got to around 3,000 metres – that must be nearly 70-80 shuttles. I can’t believe he can still do that. He’s an incredible man.”

Despite conceding nearly 13 years to the 22-year-old right-arm seamer, Cook retained his crown in their showdown. “But it was very close,” Beard added. “When I pulled out, he celebrated while I was on the floor because apparently he was quite nervous about it. He wanted to keep his title.

“He’s literally just an engine. You look at him and think he’s knackered, but he just keeps going and going. And he doesn’t sweat, either. There was a pool of sweat when I finished, while Sir Alastair looked as if he could go again.”

Beard learnt first-hand that Cook didn’t get to the top of his profession, and a record number of Test appearances for England, without hard work.

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“That’s shown throughout his whole career with people having mixed thoughts about him – but he always seems to come back and prove them wrong,” he said.

“Anyway, hopefully with another long season and some more fitness training during the winter I might have him next year!”

Beard, who enjoyed his breakthrough season in Essex’s double-winning team in 2019, has been an enthusiastic contributor to the club’s outreach campaign by phoning senior members locked in self-isolation.

He has made 75 calls in the last week with another 50 or so still on his list, adding: “I’ve tried to do 20 a day, but some days I’ve done more, some days less. It just depends how chatty the members are.

“All we’re trying to do is make what is a difficult time a little bit easier by having a conversation with them, seeing what they’re up to and sharing memories of their visits to the County Ground.

“I’ve really enjoyed it. I had a 97-year-old war veteran who was telling me stories about his experiences and how there were only two members of his regiment still with us.

“I’ve had a couple where their wives have recently died, and there have been a few tears, but I’ve tried to comfort them. When they’re quite lonely it’s nice to have someone to chat to. They’ve maybe not had many phone calls or seen as many people as they would if this difficult time wasn’t around.

“Everyone I speak to is gutted they can’t come down and watch us play. What I’ve been saying to them is I’d love to meet them when they can finally come down and be able to put a face to the name. Hopefully we can make that connection.”

Beard spent a month in Cape Town during the winter with Claremont Cricket Club before a fractured bone in his bowling hand – suffered when batting in the nets – curtailed his time there. The injury recovered in time for him to join Essex’s aborted pre-season tour to Abu Dhabi and he said: “It’s frustrating because we got a good amount done in the week we were there and everyone was raring to go.

“We were devastated when the call came to return home. We’d had some really competitive nets and we could see how everyone was doing, batting and bowling. That’s why we were in such good spirits because everything was going so well. We can’t wait to get going again. But it’s not in our control, unfortunately.”

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