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June 24, 2008
Essex 242 for 3 (Napier 152*) beat Sussex 114 (Middlebrook 3-13, Chambers 3-31) by 128 runs
Chelmsford is one of the smaller county grounds, and the boundaries had been brought in further, but regardless of those factors it was a stunning display from Napier who has previously been languishing down the lower order. However, he told Essex coach Paul Grayson that he felt good after a morning net so, following some team discussion, he was given a crack at No. 3. He will be there for a while now.
"It was awesome, fantastic," he told Sky Sports moments after hitting his final six. "I just started to see the ball better, middle one or two and then got into a rhythm."
Wherever the Sussex attack bowled, Napier launched them over the stands and out of the ground. Some balls went into the river, others in the nearby gardens and a few towards the flats. Some hits were so huge they would have been six on the biggest grounds in the world.
What made Napier's display even better was that he actually took time to play himself in as Essex pottered through the opening six overs. But once he'd middled a few to the short straight boundaries he was unstoppable. There was a cleanness to his striking that was wonderful to watch, the constant crunch of the ball off the middle of his heavy bat resonating around the ground.
The century came off 44 balls, but he was still finding top gear as his remaining 52 took 14 deliveries, many of which ended in the crowd. Napier's 16 sixes broke Brendon McCullum's record that was set during his 158 in the opening IPL match. Although Napier didn't quite have enough time to break McCullum's score, he comfortably went past Cameron White's 141 for Somerset which was the previous best in the Twenty20 Cup. James Kirtley went for 67 off his four overs, with Napier taking 30 from his final over - the last of the innings.
However, that wasn't the end of Napier's work for the evening as he came out 15 minutes later and took the new ball. Living up to his feats with the bat was always going to be tough, but it barely mattered that his two overs cost 20. Sussex had no choice but to swing hard and quickly came unstuck.
Maurice Chambers, who continues to build up his pace after overcoming a stress fracture of the back, impressed with three wickets which included Matt Prior and Murray Goodwin in successive balls. Sussex's defeat ends their slim hopes of making the quarter-finals, while Essex have crucial home-and-away ties against Hampshire to come.
But the evening was about just one person. For anyone at the ground or watching the match on television, Napier's innings will live long in the memory.
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