I first met Aaron before he’d signed a senior contract with Essex, he was still at school, but making his way in a world he was so clearly meant to be in. A joint appearance on Phoenix FM’s cricket programme 98 Not Out, thanks to Daren and Brett, gave me the opportunity to arrange an interview I’d been hoping to do since that time. I can honestly say this young man has to be one of the nicest people in sport!
Starting at the beginning, cricket was a part of Aaron’s life from a very young age, his Dad and Uncle played for Roxwell and his Grandad would walk him down to watch. He picked a bat up at around 3 or 4, going the supposedly natural way of starting right handed, that was to change over time.
As with most little boys football was king for a while with Aaron and he definitely showed an aptitude for the game, I imagine he’s one of those annoying people who’s good at anything he does.
While Aaron did start playing cricket at Writtle at around the age of 8 football was more of a focus until the age of 13/14, he played at District level and moved to play at Doddinghurst where he came to the attention of both a West Ham coach and Fulham scout. He played with Colchester footballer Cameron James, a good friend.
Aaron played up an age group and from that team they put together a cricket team, there does seem to be a big crossover between football and cricket, especially when it comes to fans of the 2 games and seemingly for young players too.
Although Aaron told me football was more of a focus for him he played in the Essex Cricket age group teams from the age of 8 and captained the team between the ages of 11 – 15, with the team winning 3 of the 4 trophies on offer during that time.
During that period, at the age of 12, Aaron moved to Chelmsford Cricket Club, there was a better standard of cricket as the club played in a higher league and the Colts set up was in a better place. He joined Tom Craddock at the club, Tom made his name playing for Essex against England when he took the wickets of Ian Bell, Matt Prior, Graeme Swann and Steven Finn!
It was lovely listening to Aaron talking about what was clearly a very happy childhood, for him that generally meant being outside. Saturdays were football training in the morning before a quick game of cricket followed by watching his Dad play cricket all afternoon. Once the weather changed and cricket couldn’t happen Aaron used to make every effort to get as dirty as he could, his poor Mum! He also confessed to breaking a lot of things in the house, a typical live wire boy for sure! I somehow think that hasn’t changed, hopefully he isn’t breaking things anymore!
A break of a different kind would turn things the way of bat and ball for Aaron , he broke a Metatarsal, that foot injury that was made famous by David Beckham which then seemed to plague a number of high profile footballers. That put him out of football for 6 weeks, but over the winter so no cricket missed, he played another year of football but was being pushed towards the sport that would keep him out all day long.
John Childs the Essex Academy Director – advised Aaron to take cricket seriously, he believed he could succeed in the game. That meant a decision had to be made, Aaron had to work harder in cricket, where the pathway was much clearer. In addition, the risk of injury, alongside insurance issues means you can’t do both sports.
Essex had a Fast Bowling Academy. ideal for Aaron and also Chris Silverwood, who became an important part of Aaron’s life, he would prove to be a huge influence.
A second injury would also play a big part in the direction Aaron’s cricket career would take. At 15 he was picked to play for England in Sri Lanka, he travelled, but a back injury meant he couldn’t play and in fact it kept him away from bowling for 18 months. Many would’ve felt sorry for themselves, not Aaron, he took the opportunity to work on his batting.
We spoke about the fact that cricketers really can’t afford to be one horse ponies, certainly not when bowling’s their main skill. It’s no surprise to hear that Aaron’s cricketing hero when he was growing up was one Freddie Flintoff.
He also had a bowling change at 17, after hitting an opposition player at Felsted School, after being frustrated by the batsman coming down the wicket to him, he bowled a bouncer which knocked his helmet off! It was interesting to hear how that was from Aaron’s point of view, he was obviously disturbed by it
in May 2016 Sri Lanka were the visitors at the County Ground and Aaron took 4 for 62 in his 16 overs, including both openers, Mendis at 3 and Siriwardana who came in at 6. He took Silva’s wicket for the 2nd time in the second innings too.
Later that summer and at just 18 Aaron was again picked by England, to play for the Under 19’s against Sri Lanks, I went to watch him play at The Spitfire Ground in Canterbury, it was the only game he didn’t play in the series. That I believe is called Sod’s Law!
I wondered if the England set up had tried to influence Aaron’s technique, happily for him Kevin Shine was the bowling coach and he knew Chris Silverwood well so didn’t feel the need to intervene.
During this dream like time for an 18 year old, Aaron had changed schools for his 6th Form, he’d moved to Great Baddow High to study a Sport BTEC, I can remember talking to him about how important it was to finish his studies.
School days mixed in with cricket at this time, he’d be training with the First team with half days at school and have the odd Friday with the club for the full day. It takes dedication to make it in professional sport and this young man has oodles of that.
Breaking into this Essex First team is no easy feat and things have been frustrating at times for Aaron. During the 2019 season, after a good spell with the second XI, he played in 7 Championship games, he had a particularly good bowling performance against Somerset, taking an amazing 4 for 23 in their first innings and 3 for 22 in the second. That, alongside his partnership of 74 with Ryan ten Doeschate against Yorkshire, where he made 41 from 77 balls, were 2 highlights from what was a very successful summer for the club.
In addition to those county games, which is the format Aaron believes suits his game the most, he played 8 T20’s and 2 ODI’s. He was part of the XI that won on the day at Edgbaston, that must’ve been amazing, it was amazing to watch let alone take part in!
So, what does a cricketer do come October? In the case of Essex players there’s been plenty of trophy appearances, the club could’t ask for anyone better than Aaron to represent them, he has a wonderful way about him.
Then comes a well earned 6 week break, which for Aaron meant one gym session a week and a couple of runs, he played golf, went fishing and spent time with family and friends. The second week in November sees a return to training, with fitness levels checked, setting a baseline which is then checked again in mid December. Aaron prides himself on his fitness, and likes to set the bar.
Another thing that keeps Aaron busy is coaching, he’s qualified to Level 2, thanks to a PCA organised course led by ECB trainers. He coaches alongside Adam Wheater on Saturday’s at Coopers School, as well as working privately with individuals. In his words, he’s giving something back to the game. He advises all young players to work on the element of their game which isn’t their first choice.
On January 7th Aaron sets off to South Africa with Nick Browne and Paul Walter, for some competitive cricket. He wintered in Manley last year, and while there he also worked as a groundsman, adding another string to his bow. The overseas trips are a learning experience, largely funded by the player. Bowling with a kookaburra ball means a bowler has to do the work the ball won’t. It’s all about finding some consistency, key for bowlers. He was in Manly from November 3rd until the end of February. Some way to spend a winter!
From South Africa the 3 will fly to Abu Dhabi to join the rest of their colleagues for pre-season training, full details here https://www.essexcricket.org.uk/2019/01/29/pre-season-plans-confirmed/
I had a few pre-prepared questions for Aaron –
Favourite Essex Cricketer – growing up it was Graham Napier, he was a mentor of a kind, after their first gym session Graham told Aaron he wouldn’t be able to walk, and he was right! As the years have gone on Ryan ten Doeschate has taken over the mantle
Favourite England Cricketer- As mentioned growing up it was Freddie Flintoff before the pure bowler in him has plumped for Jimmy Anderson.
Favourite World Cricketer – Ben Stokes. The theme of all rounders is clear to see. Peter Siddle would however be close, he really buys into the Essex way and has been a great role model as has Mohammad Amir.
I hope to see Aaron go from strength to strength, he’s a young man who can go very far, I wish him every success.