Graham Richard Napier
January 06, 1980, Colchester, Essex
Right hand bat
Right arm medium
Gilberd School, Colchester
When Graham Napier's 26-year association with Essex ended in 2016, he was established beyond doubt as one of the most compelling cricketers in the county's history. How could he not be when he held the distinction as a cricketer who had twice hit what then stood as a world-record 16 sixes in an innings?
As a product of the Essex youth system, he made his mark in county cricket as an allrounder of great promise, which he began to fulfil in the latter half of his career. In 2008 he wrote his name in the record books with an astonishing 152 against Sussex in a Twenty20, which included a world record 16 sixes. Remarkably, three years later, he did it again, this time against Surrey in the Championship. In 2013, he took seven wickets in a 40-over match against Surrey, which included bowling Ricky Ponting through the gate before going on to take four in four balls.
Those efforts encapsulated the two sides of Napier's game, which make him a huge crowd favourite and a key player for Essex with bat and ball - particularly in one-day cricket, where his hard-hitting batting was complemented by a nifty line in seam bowling, which was characterised by a mean yorker and which could prove frustratingly hard to dispatch in the closing overs of a match.
Napier appeared to be making a steady rise to prominence when, in July 2004, he was named in an England pool of 30 players for the Champions Trophy. The previous summer, he had equalled the highest number of wickets taken by an Essex player in a one-day league campaign (33), and was subsequently selected for the ECB academy tour of Malaysia and India in early 2004. But injury problems mounted and he slipped down the Essex pecking order, to the point where he wasn't even sure of his place. A few difficult seasons followed, but that record-breaking T20 innings against Sussex at Chelmsford drew the selectors' attention, as well as that of IPL franchise Mumbai Indians, and in 2009 he was named in England's World Twenty20 squad.
IPL fame never materialised and, in spite of continuing good T20 performances for Essex and Central Districts in New Zealand, he was left out of England's initial 30 for the 2010 World Twenty20. Napier stated his determination to prove the selectors wrong, but was then dealt a heavy blow when, in June 2010, he suffered a stress fracture to his back, ending his season. But he made a mark immediately upon his return to the county game, thrashing 196 in the Championship against Surrey at Whitgift School - a knock which equalled Andrew Symonds' world record for the most sixes in a first-class innings with 16 towering blows.
That international cap may never have come for Napier, but by then he was established as one of Essex's most popular players, enthralling Chelmsford in Twenty20s in a way reminiscent of a homegrown football star at West Ham. In 2012, he enjoyed a benefit year at Essex. It also proved his best first-class season yet, averaging 33.50 with the bat and 22.95 with the ball. The following season, he took 50 first-class wickets for the first time, whilst averaging nearly 50 with the bat, emphasising his importance. Having signalled that 2016 would be his final summer, ahead of setting up a cricket academy at the Royal Hospital School in Suffolk, he led the wicket-taking lists for Essex in all three formats and even signed off at Colchester, where he grew up, with the seventh first-class hundred of his career. With the Festival's future uncertain, it was a bittersweet affair.
His feats in the Championship carried the most significance, as Napier's 63 wickets - outdone by only three players, not a bad achievement for a 36-year-old seamer - went a long way towards ensuring Essex would be promoted as Division Two champions. His last appearance at Chelmsford may have been interrupted by one final injury, but as he limped off with another four scalps under his belt Essex were well on their way to gathering the bonus points they needed to return to the top tier after a seven-year absence. He demurred when it was suggested he was an Essex legend, but many held him to be precisely that.
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