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Beard's dream debut shakes Sri Lankans

Aaron Beard has been on Essex's radar since playing for their U-9s and against the Sri Lankan tourists their hopes began to come to fruition as he took four wickets in an eye-catching first-class debut

Essex 81 for 2 trail Sri Lankans 254 (Mendis 66, Dickwella 53, Beard 4-62) by 173 runs
Not many, least of all the tourists, knew much of Aaron Beard when he ran in for the first ball of Sri Lanka's trip to England, but he certainly knew how to draw attention to himself. With wickets in each of his first two overs, the 18-year-old Chelmsford-born schoolboy began his first-class career in dreamy fashion as he picked apart Sri Lanka's top order.
Beard, who has been with Essex since he was nine, ended with 4-62 as they were bowled out for 254. With the fourth ball of the match, after Angelo Mathews had opted to bat upon winning a not-terribly-fiercely-contested toss, Beard got one to nip away and take Kaushal Silva's edge. Then, with the third ball of his next over, Beard had the other opener, Dinuth Karunaratne trapped in front by a full delivery.
There is mitigation for not knowing much about Beard. Only the most eagle-eyed viewers will remember he was a substitute fielder for England during a 2013 Ashes warm-up here, aged just 15. That is a responsibility given to few, whatever the occasion.
All Essex's quietly-held hopes for him began to distil on a debut he will never forget. He does not turn 19 until October and is working under Graham Napier, a star pupil as Napier takes his Level 3 coaching qualification; Napier believes his charge has a wrist position of unusual quality.
Worryingly, Beard has already had two major back operations, but here all the moving parts looked in fine working order again; he is not tall, but is relatively broad shouldered, and a repeatable, attractive action arrives at the end of a smooth run. He found some movement, both off the seam and in the air, while the yorker he castled Milinda Siriwardana with suggested he could enjoy success with a white ball too. Graham Ford, Sri Lanka's coach, was suitably impressed.
"It was an amazing day," said Beard. "I was very nervous running in first up, but once you've bowled a couple of decent balls you settle and I was lucky to get my wicket in the first over. That eased the pressure completely. I wouldn't have wanted to make my debut anywhere else than Chelmsford, definitely not. I went to school about six minutes up the road and first played for Essex in the under-9s.
"I don't actually remember the first wicket because my adrenalin was rushing so quickly and it was very surreal. I settled as I bowled more."
Beard's exciting intervention apart, this was probably not how Sri Lanka imagined their first day of their tour of England. Having been spooked by England's recent snow, the Sri Lanka's were surprised to find that the sun blazing throughout - ice cream and increasingly salmon-coloured skin were abundant.
There was even a chance for the attack Sanath Jayasuriya this week described as the "best attack in the world" to feel the sun on their backs. They toiled as Essex - who bat deep - reached stumps 81 for 2.
If 254 seemed underpar, it was a decent enough day for the two men Mathews has suggested are jostling for the No.3 spot. Kusal Mendis, who batted at first drop today, scored a fluent, at times extravagant 66, having found himself at the crease so early.
Then Niroshan Dickwella, who came in as low as No.8, chanced his arm for the only other half-century, looking particularly good through the covers. Lahiru Thirimanne, the third member of the touring party with designs on the spot at first drop, is said to be operating at about 85% and remains a week away from a full recovery from his hamstring injury.
When Sri Lanka took the field, Dinesh Chandimal took the gloves, but Dickwella remains in contention for the role in the Test series, and may keep later in this match.
After Beard's early burst, Mendis and Chandimal rebuilt. West Australian Matt Dixon, whose bowling improved as the day worn on and who appears to have a fine bouncer, and Tom Moore bowled loosely, and Mendis was quick to profit, particularly through midwicket and on the cut. The pair had shared a jaunty and stylish 88 when Chandimal edged Jesse Ryder to second slip.
After lunch, wickets fell periodically. Beard returned with good pace to dismiss Mendis caught at the wicket, then Siriwardana, while Ryder pinned Dhananjaya de Silva in front. Mathews was defiant and was well caught at mid-off off Ravi Bopara. Dickwella was left to swing, then slog, with the tail, which was mopped up by Moore's seam after tea.
Sri Lanka's frustration continued as Nick Browne and Jaik Mickleburgh played attractively to guide Essex in sharing 76, before Dhammika Prasad got one to nip back from round the wicket at Browne, who played attractively on the drive after a slow start. Nightwatchman Moore attempted to guide Essex to stumps, but was bowled not offering a stroke to Shaminda Eranga.
This, though, was emphatically Essex and Beard's day. Sri Lanka - indeed, all of us - certainly know a bit about him now.

Will Macpherson writes on cricket for the Guardian, ESPNcricinfo and All Out Cricket. @willis_macp