Graham Napier feared his career was over after suffering a double stress fracture of the back last summer, and the road to recovery has been long and bleak. The 31-year-old all-rounder best known for a world-record innings in Twenty20 kept up his spirits by promising himself that if he did pick up a cricket bat or ball again he would enjoy every minute he could play. Yesterday he delivered on his promise – and then some.
In his first innings in first-class cricket for almost a year, Napier equalled another world record by hitting 16 sixes in an astonishing knock of 196 for Essex against Surrey at Whitgift School, matching the mark set by Australia's Andrew Symonds in an unbeaten 254 for Gloucestershire at Abergavenny in 1995.
In an extraordinary display of brutal hitting, Napier smashed three sixes in a single over three times – twice against the off-spinner Gareth Batty, who conceded 112 runs in 15 overs, and once with seamer Stuart Meaker unwittingly feeding him the ammunition.
Napier's phenomenal performance gathered momentum as he went from 83 to 105 in one over from the pacy Tim Linley, completing his century with a six hammered over extra cover, then raced to 150 from just 15 more deliveries. His final 103 runs came off just 29 balls. His attempt to take the sixes record in his own right failed when he skied one from Meaker and was caught by wicketkeeper Steve Davies as Essex were 548 all out.
Rory Hamilton-Brown extended the run feast with a century for Surrey before Kevin Pietersen joined in by hitting two early sixes. Napier's 152 in a Twenty20 match at Chelmsford in 2008 also included 16 sixes, a world record that still stands in that form of cricket, as does his tally of 136 in boundaries. His canny seam bowling, meanwhile, has already earned him two hat-tricks this season, the first in second XI cricket in April, the other against Glamorgan in a CB40 match this month.
Elsewhere, Pietersen's England colleague Ian Bell demonstrated his well-being ahead of next Thursday's opening Test against Sri Lanka with a commanding 139 for Warwickshire at Trent Bridge, where Stuart Broad again struggled for fluency despite claiming the wicket of his international team-mate. Champions Nottinghamshire were bowled out for 117, forced to follow on 259 behind.
But captain Andrew Strauss had a less auspicious day, losing his wicket for eight for Middlesex during an impressive spell of new-ball bowling from Glamorgan's James Harris at Lord's, while England wicketkeeper Matt Prior did not appear after tea at Hove after being struck on the elbow batting.
Most sixes in a first-class match:
16 Andrew Symonds, Gloucestershire v Glamorgan, Aberveganny, August 1995
16 Graham Napier, Essex v Surrey. Whitgift School, May 2011
Most sixes in Twenty20 match:
16 Graham Napier, Essex v Sussex, Chelmsford June 2008
Most sixes in List A match:
12 Alistair Brown, Surrey v Glamorgan, Cheltenham & Gloucester Trophy, The Oval, August 2002Reuse content