Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Graham 'Napalm Death' Napier

Two weeks ago it was Ravi Bopara - this time it was Essex's lesser-known allrounder Graham Napier out in the middle, detonating the ball to all parts of the ground. His 152 from just 58 balls may well have been touched by the kind of fortune that only comes to those who truly 'give' themselves to the slog (as well as blessed by the short boundaries at Chelmsford), but it certainly served notice of the often-elusive potential that Essex-goers have been aware of for some time.

In my preview of Essex's 2008 fortunes, I suggested that this could be a watershed year for Napier, after the period he spent in New Zealand over the winter. There, whilst playing club cricket for Upper Valley, he was called into Wellington's side for the State Twenty20 and State Shield (50 over) competitions, at one point sharing the batting with former Kiwi captain Stephen Fleming. The hard yards of wintering abroad were described on Napier's Essex blog, and it's a good indication of how seriously he's perhaps beginning to view his cricketing career. In Kiwi, he picked up a first ever hat-trick, on his was to 7-34 for Upper Valley; back on the county scene, and after a slowish start, he's managed to claim a world record for the number of sixes in an innings.

Whilst the carnage was being wreaked against Sussex, Sky's David 'Bumble' Lloyd mused that Napier had got himself fit, and was beginning to show the application required of a cricketer who wants to step his game up a level. He also suggested that England may well like to find a place for the Colchester-born 28-year-old at some point. As with Bopara, such predictions are generated as much by the heat of the crucible as the cold, hard facts. But then again, stranger things have happened (Paul Grayson in the Champions Trophy, for instance)...

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Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Fictional progression

For a long time I considered that making up your story as you went along would constitute the most enjoyable form of journalism. Well, it actually turns out to be not quite as easy as I first though - but still pretty fun.

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Thursday, June 05, 2008

Ravi runs away with it

Phenomenal. That's about the only way to describe Ravi Bopara's blistering double hundred against Leicestershire in the Friends Provident Trophy. I'd just tuned in to BBC Essex's streaming commentary when Ravi cleared the ropes for the tenth time, bringing up his 200 with one ball of Essex's innings remaining. This was astonishing not only because there have only ever been a handful of limited-over double hundreds, but also due to the fact that Ravi had reached a mere 150 about five overs beforehand, when I belatedly checked the score for the first time.

I remember noting Ravi's innings of 83 from 46 balls against Surrey in the Twenty20 Cup in my 2006 season review for Third Umpire. As luck would have it, Essex's next one day fixture will be at Surrey in the T20, and I'll be sitting in the Oval bleachers again, hoping for more of the same. There have been no less than forty hundreds scored in T20 competition, the highest being one of the most recent - Brendon McCullum's ferocious 158 not out in the IPL - so it's not beyond the realms of fantasy that the Eagles could be rocket-propelled towards another big total by Centurion Bopara; though another double looks unlikely.

As the BBC Essex commentators mulled the significance of Ravi's pyrotechnically accomplished knock, they immediately projected forward to him scoring bucketloads of runs in the one-dayers against New Zealand, and then doubtless returning to the Test side to face the Saffers. Caution should be preached, for now, as he has already received caps in both forms of the game, and ended up departing with them in hand. However, with such undoubted aggression, and his wristy, punchy stroke play, there's every reason to hope - particularly while England's middle order continues to suffer so excruciatingly...

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