Hamilton-Brown responds to Napier onslaught
Surrey 277 for 4 v Essex 548
The Surrey and Essex faithful came to Croydon to watch England star Kevin Pietersen bat, but left for home marvelling over Graham Napier's astonishing display of pyrotechnics.
Free from the spinal stress fracture injury that has dogged him for over a year Napier, in his first County Championship game for 11 months, clubbed a world record-equalling 16 sixes in a career-best 196 for his part in mammoth Essex first innings of 548 all out.
Having resumed on his overnight score of 25, the 31-year-old right- hander took three overs or so to play himself in before launching a savage assault on Surrey's listless attack.
Balls were disappearing over the ropes, out of the ground and disappearing down the adjacent A235 Brighton Road with more frequency than London buses heading into town. He twice took three sixes in an over against Gareth Batty, and in between times achieved the same feat against Stuart Meaker.
Though Tim Phillips and David Masters fell at the other end, Napier charged on untroubled adding over a hundred runs to his overnight tally before lunch, the first batsman to do so against Surrey since Allan Lamb for Northamptonshire at Wantage Road in 1989.
In all, the visitors scored 172 in the session, but their fun did not stop there as Chris Wright held up one end for 90 minutes in contributing 34 to a ninth-wicket stand that added 190 in 22.2 overs.
There were no nervous 90s for Napier. On 88 he drove Tim Linley to the ropes through cover then, playing right back in his crease, launched back foot forces over extra cover and long-off to move to an imperious century from 102 balls with 15 fours and five sixes. It was his fourth first-class century and his first since July 2007.
He might have gone for 118 when miscuing high to long on against Batty, but Chris Tremlett's effort appeared half-hearted and the England paceman only succeeding in spilling the chance for four.
As if to celebrate the milestone and the let off Napier shifted gear after lunch and moved into overdrive. Despite losing Wright to a run out by Mark Ramprakash, Napier switched to Twenty20 mode and his charge proved nigh on relentless.
He hit another four sixes and four fours to post his third 50 in just 15 deliveries. Tired of replacing lost balls, umpire Richard Kettleborough took to taking two at a time from the box of spares once Napier truly got his eye in.
It was Batty who suffered most; his 15, wicketless overs cost 112 runs at an economy rate of 7.40 as he conceded seven of Napier's 16 sixes. A tally that took Napier level with the first-class world record for sixes in an innings set by Andrew Symonds, when playing as an 'Englishman' for Gloucestershire against Glamorgan at Abergavenny in 1995.
Having scored his last 103 runs from only 29 balls, Napier found himself four shy of a maiden double hundred which he clearly wanted to reach in a manner befitting of the innings. Aiming for the player's pavilion against Meaker he top-edged and wicketkeeper Steven Davies ran around toward gully to catch a skier and end the Essex innings.
To his credit, home skipper Rory Hamilton-Brown ran over to shake Napier's hand as the all-rounder walked off to a standing ovation.
Requiring 399 merely to avoid the follow-on, Surrey made good progress through Hamilton-Brown and Tom Maynard, who was making his maiden appearance as an opener for Surrey.
The former Millfield School chums, who boast a combined age of 45, added a trouble free 136 either side of tea for Surrey's first century opening stand since August 2009
Hamilton-Brown coasted to his fifth championship hundred from 123 balls with his 20th sumptuous four, but Maynard nicked a good one from Masters to go for 43 and Mark Ramprakash went for a 12-ball duck, bringing in Pietersen with 25 overs remaining.
He should have gone with 18 against his name to the same bowler when Mark Pettini downed a comfortable overhead opportunity at mid-on, but when on to a 48-ball 50 before playing across one from Matt Walker to fall lbw for 58 shortly before stumps.