Responsible Napier rallies Essex
Lancashire 7 for 1 trail Essex 226 (Napier 102*, Procter 4-66) by 219 runs
There are few more thrilling sights in domestic cricket than Graham Napier in full flow, demonstrating an ability for clean hitting that has been matched by few. It once earned him a lucrative contract in the IPL and, briefly, a place in England's Twenty20 World Cup squad back in 2009.
Now 33, and in the autumn stages of his career, he has belatedly found a consistency that many feared was beyond a player capable of destructive brilliance but rarely able to play responsible innings. It is a theme he has brought to an abrupt halt this summer, with a prolific start to the season that culminated in an unbroken century on a difficult Old Trafford wicket.
Arriving at the crease with Essex in trouble at 77 for 5 after Luke Procter, Lancashire's allrounder, claimed 4 for 8 in 28 balls either side of lunch, this was not a typical Napier innings. It lasted over two and a half hours and, by the time he had run out of partners, he had guided Essex to a respectable 226 by adding 99 priceless runs for the last four wickets.
He resisted his naturally attacking instincts until the 163rd ball of his innings, when he finally cut loose and pulled Glen Chapple for six, and by the time he added the second maximum to reach his century he had been dropped three times. Just to underline the importance of his innings for Essex, they finished on a high with Reece Topley surprising Paul Horton with extra bounce from the final ball of the day.
"I'm getting older so you mature a little bit and you have greater experience," said Napier, whose unbeaten 102 took his tally to 340 Championship runs in six innings this season. "If I'd been in that position a couple of years ago, I may have played a rash shot and thrown my wicket away, so valuing my wicket comes into it, but also the responsibility of coming in at number seven.
"I haven't done that for Essex for a long time and that brings responsibility as a player because it's a key role. If you can hang around, bat with the tail, you can create an environment where you can score runs but also keep us batting as long as we can."
For the early part of the day it appeared ball would dominate bat on a green-tinged wicket with far greater bounce and carry than those featured in Lancashire's draws with Kent and Worcestershire already this summer. Procter was particularly effective from the Pavilion End and claimed the prize wicket of Alastair Cook, edging behind trying to drive, in his final match before resuming England captaincy duties.
Procter should have claimed five wickets but Napier, on 9, was dropped by Horton at first slip. It was a costly miss with Napier going on to demonstrate the art of batting with the tail. Sajid Mahmood showed intent on his return to Lancashire several months after his acrimonious departure before holing out in the deep to give left-arm spinner Stephen Parry, playing his first Championship appearance since 2009 in place of Lions-bound Simon Kerrigan, the second of two wickets.