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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