ENGLAND cricket captain Alastair Cook said swapping international duties for training at Essex has been a real help after a difficult winter.

The 29-year-old spoke to the Weekly News as he pulled the first pint of a beer brewed to mark the benefit year the left-handed batsman has this season at the Ford County Ground.

Cook served up the first glass at the Golden Fleece in Duke Street just hours after helping Essex complete a 53 run victory over Derbyshire in the County Championship.

Having scored a superb 181 in the second innings to help the Eagles who were bowled out for 94 on the first day, Cook said it was good to be home.

Cook said: “It has been a pretty hectic few months with how the cricket and everything else went but it is nice to be back here helping Essex win their first game of the season.

“The difference this season is I’ve actually started with a proper pre-season as normally I’m still touring at this point before having just a few days off.

“I’ve been back since the end of February and from March I have been in full time training at Essex for probably the first time since 2006, which has given me time to do some serious work on my cricket away from the spotlight.”

Cook is expected to play in Essex’s next three County Championship games and first Twenty20 match before Sri Lanka come to England.

The national skipper who has played 102 times for his country and holds the record for most test hundreds for them, 25, said he is looking forward to continuing Essex’s good start.

“I enjoy playing for Essex and we have an important season ahead,” Cook said.

“We haven’t done as well as we’d like to have done over the last few years but there’s been some changes around the club and I think it will be for the good.”

Money raised by Cook in his benefit year will be split between four charities, Chance To Shine, the David Randall Foundation, MIND and the Professional Cricketers’ Association Benevolent Fund.