Cult Heroes: Graham Napier


The latest player in our Cult Heroes series looks back on the career of a record-breaker who lit up Chelmsford on numerous occasions. A local hero who spent his entire career at the Club before retiring in 2016.

Enjoy a look back on the career of Graham Napier with an opportunity to watch the highlights from two special performances in particular…

This series is supported by Allen Ford and we thank them for their continued support.

Essex Career Stats (1997-2016)
First-Class Debut: 20 August 1997 v Nottinghamshire
Appearances: 500
Runs: 8,912
First Class Average: 58.88
Highest Score: 196 – 2011 v Surrey
Centuries: 8
Fifties: 38
Wickets: 842
Best Figures: 7-21 – 2014 v Cambridge MCCU

A life-changing innings for a game-changer.

The date was Tuesday 24 June 24, 2008, and Essex Eagles faced Sussex Sharks in the Twenty20 Cup on a balmy evening at Chelmsford. As Graham Napier strode to the crease, he would have no idea that what was about to occur would alter his life.

The all-rounder, batting at number 3, produced an amazing innings of 152 not out from just 58 balls during which he set new world record figures as he blasted 16 sixes peppering the ball into and beyond the Chelmsford crowd with bullets from his bat.

His half-century arrived after 29 balls and 15 balls later, he was celebrating his hundred. The next 50 runs were even more mind-blowing with just 13 more deliveries required to reach his to 150, achieved with the 16th six of his spectacular innings that also included 10 fours.

The media were now on his trail and the attention brought the offer of an IPL contract with Mumbai Indians. It was a commitment that was to change his life.

“It was the launch pad of my career when I didn’t really know where cricket was going. It set me back on track to where I wanted to be,” he acknowledged.”

In 2009 he was named in England’s World Twenty20 squad but didn’t get the opportunity to showcase his talents and he was then dealt a heavy blow when, in June 2010, he suffered a stress fracture to his back, ending his season.

Then 31 years-old, the Colchester-born destroyer still had a point to prove. Returning to the first-class game after an 11-month absence, he struck 196 in the County Championship match with Surrey at Whitgift School on his comeback. He faced 130 deliveries and equalled the world record of 16 sixes in a first-class innings.

However, it was the wicket of Australia Test captain Ricky Ponting that is among his personal highlights. That came in 2013 when he took four wickets in four balls during a Yorkshire Bank 40 match against Surrey, on his way to career-best figures of 7-32.

“To take his wicket was very special and to take his middle stump, that is my little personal highlight,” he admitted.

As a youngster, he might have pursued a career as a goalkeeper with Ipswich Town having been offered a place on their YTS scholarship scheme but cricket was closest to the Napier heart and he opted for the summer game.

But it was not until that memorable T20 innings that his preferred career really took off.

“The 152 opened the door for me,” he admitted. “It got me into world headlines and led to opportunities to play in the IPL and other places. Yet, funnily enough, up until that season I didn’t feel I was making any progress and hadn’t done so for two summers really. I’d been in and out of the first team, without establishing myself soundly as a player. I’d been with Essex since 1996 when I joined as a YTS trainee.

“I’d got my County cap but I wasn’t really achieving what I wanted. In that summer, I had been given application forms for the fire brigade and the police force. “I suppose at that time, I was just looking to plan for the future if cricket was not going to fulfil the ambition I had. I guess that innings helped postpone the future plans for a few more years, 8 years in fact.”

After a lot of hard thinking, he took the decision to retire at the conclusion of the 2016 season. But there was still time for Napes to remind the fans of his all-round talents. Fittingly the stage was at his “home” ground of Castle Park, Colchester where he had played so much cricket in his formative years. “I wanted to go out when I was still turning in acceptable performances,” he insisted.

And he did in spectacular style in the match with Sussex. Having taken his 17th first-class 5-wickets haul for the Club, he followed up with his 7th first-class century for the county when he struck 124 to steer his side to the draw that kept them on top of the table and a step closer to promotion. Napier’s marvellous effort with the bat spanned 155 balls and included 4 sixes and 17 fours, which earned him an emotional standing ovation.

Now his time is spent as a teacher at RHS School in Ipswich but Napier hopes that his master classes for Essex on the cricket field will be fondly appreciated by all who saw him play.

An effective and fine exponent of the game across all three formats, he retired after 172 first-class matches for Essex having accumulated 5,225 runs and taken 468 wickets. His 219 List A appearances for the Eagles brought 251 wickets and almost 2,400 runs whilst 109 T20 matches produced 123 wickets and 995 runs.

“I’d like people to remember me as someone that played with a smile, enjoyed the game and entertained,” he stated. “There have been highs and lows along the way. I’ve had a few injuries in my career that halted my progress.

“As long as you play, make sure you do it with a smile on your face whether you are a 17-year-old and making your debut or you are playing in your last game.”

Truly a wonderful entertainer who gave so much fun to those watching.