Napier makes a name for himself

On Tuesday evening I made a last-minute decision to hop on a Chelmsford bound commuter train to catch a taste of the English domestic Twenty20 Cup. The fixture was Essex versus Sussex and as I took my seat in the most oddly shaped higgledy piggledy stadium I have ever seen, I could never have guessed at the kind of innings I was due to see.

Essex won the toss and were around 20 for 1 after 4 overs when a fellow by the name of Graham Napier began shifting gears upwards. More of a bowler than a batsman, Napier revelled in his pinch-hitting role at number three as he struck an extraordinary number of aerial boundaries in his unbeaten 152 runs off 58 balls. Napier’s assault was brutal and his 16 sixes smashed Brendon McCullum’s Twenty20 record of 13 sixes in his unbeaten 158 runs off 73 balls for the Kolkata Knight Riders in Bangalore at the inaugural IPL match earlier this year.

Napier’s knock allowed Essex to post a massive 242 for 3 in twenty overs and his record of 16 sixes in an innings may well be the most in any professional cricket match ever. The highest number of maximum hits in a Test innings is Wasim Akram’s 12 sixes in his astonishing unbeaten 257 against Zimbabwe in 1996. The record number of sixes in a first-class innings is also 16 and is held by Andrew Symonds during his innings of 254 runs when playing for Gloucestershire against Glanmorgan in Abergavenny in 2005.

While the boundaries at the already small Chelmsford ground had been brought in to enhance the Twenty20 excitement and to allow more spectators into the capacity crowd, it was nonetheless a remarkable display of big hitting and a fearless innings against quality bowling that those present shall never forget.

Until Wednesday New Zealand had never beaten a Test playing nation in an ODI at the Oval. But that all changed with a certain poetic justice as Graeme Swann’s last ball overthrow handed victory to the visitors in front of a glued-to-the-edge-of-their-seats London crowd.

Enough has been said about the controversial Grant Elliot run-out but I would like to say that no matter the extent to which Paul Collingwood made the wrong decision to not take back the appeal after running out a batsman who had been knocked over by a bowler, it was not very good to see the visiting team refusing to shake hands with their hosts. The wonderful thing about having the moral high ground is just that. And it is especially sweet when accompanied by victory.

With England one down with one to play in the Natwest ODI Series they will be a worried and downbeat camp heading to Lords for Saturday’s final match. Even more distressing for England is that the South African camp has just arrived on these shores.

This article appeared on Cricket365 in June 2008

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