June 8, 2013

Napier instrumental in Essex's fast-improving season

The form of Essex's now legendary allrounder has kept the county's heads above water

As Graham Napier snared his fourth wicket in four balls during Essex's YB40 game against Surrey at Chelmsford recently, it got me thinking, has there been a player so cruelly overlooked by England in recent times? Well, maybe, but it seemed like a good angle to wax lyrical about Colchester's finest anyhow.

Not content with his brilliant showing in the 40-over format, Napier has also been instrumental in Essex's fast-improving season, which has seen them haul themselves from the foot of the table into the promotion race, with some vital Napier contributions with both bat and ball. His stand of 88 with James Foster on day one of the Championship game against Kent, ensured Essex ended up escaping with a draw against the rabble from Canterbury.

Napier's career has been one that's seen him hampered by injuries at the wrong time, but he's shown the strength to fight back and perform superbly in all forms of the game. After equalling the highest number of wickets taken by an Essex player in a one-day campaign, 33 in 2003, Napier found himself selected in the initial party for the 2004 Champions Trophy but didn't feature.

Further niggles meant he dropped out of contention for country and at times Essex too, but Napier elevated himself back into the spotlight with a sensational innings of 152 from just 58 balls against Sussex in a Twenty20 match in 2008, his total included a world record 16 sixes. It was an innings that drew admiring glances from the England selectors again and also from IPL side Mumbai Indians, but there was no place for Napier in the England World Cup-winning side and he had a less-than-successful stint with Mumbai.

Commentators have often said that this innings weighed Napier down with expectancy. That may well be the case, but a stress fracture of the back in 2010 certainly didn't help his case either. Once again he's fought back with tremendous vigour to be able to perform at such a high level again and still be bowling at almost 90mph.

When you consider some of the dross that's been picked for England over the years, it seems pretty harsh that Napier hasn't had a crack at establishing himself in the one-day side at the very least. There's been plenty of players, I'm looking at Luke Wright in particular, that have failed more times that it's worth remembering, and more alarmingly, someone in the England camp has decided that Jade Dernbach is a better death bowler that Napier.

It may well be that Napier's time has passed, but there've been moments in his career where he's been playing as well as anyone in the England set up. It may well be to Essex's benefit that he's not been in the England reckoning, as it will give him more opportunities to recreate evenings such as those against Surrey and send the Chelmsford crowd homes in raptures again.

On another positive note, the club seem to have really pulled out the stops with the latest overseas signing. After haranguing their policy in recent years, I feel compelled to applaud the capture of the exciting batman Hamish Rutherford. The young Kiwi impressed recently against England and got his Essex career off to a brilliant start with a knock of 110 against Scotland in the YB40. With the disappointing Rob Quiney on his way home, Rutherford should be an invaluable asset and should hopefully be here for the remainder of the season.

Ben Duggan is a former sportswriter for the Press Association and now spends his time copywriting and writing about cricket. He tweets here