Ian Ward marvels at Graham Napier's knock and wonders if it will mean an England Twenty20 chance.
Last Updated: 25/06/08 1:53pm
Absolutely astonishing... that is the only way I can describe Graham Napier's innings at Chelmsford.
I have never seen anything like it in terms of hitting sixes, that's for sure. I know Andrew Symonds did it a couple of years ago but that was in a first-class game. To do it in 20-over cricket is something else.
It was just verging on the ridiculous and it wasn't even as if you could put any of it down to poor bowling. I spoke to Sussex skipper Chris Adams after the game and he wasn't really blaming his bowlers.
I suppose if you were being hyper, hyper-critical they could have nailed a few more yorkers, but where they would normally go for a single to long off, had Napier caught them on the full, they'd have probably gone out of the park.
I can't recall anything like it in terms of power-hitting. I was at the other end when Ali Brown scored his world-record 268 at The Oval and had the best seat in the house, but that was for a longer period of time and even he didn't hit 16 sixes.
Everyone was just staggered by it. Nasser Hussain, Paul Allott, Bumble and myself agreed it had just been a privilege to be there. Towards the end I was sat in the Essex dugout preparing to do my interviews and was, like his team-mates, just sat there open-mouthed.
Funnily enough before the game Essex skipper Mark Pettini and coach Paul Grayson had been wondering whether to send Napier in early or hold him back. At the top of the show Nasser actually told us: "If Napier's going to bat at three and he gets hold of it, this ground just isn't big enough."
Nasser must have a sixth sense, because they were soon flying over the pavilion, out of the ground and even over the river into the park!
Napier is a player that has been on England's radar for some time. He won the Under 19 World Cup with the likes of Rob Key and Owais Shah, so is not exactly an unknown, but this will do his World Cup chances the power of good.
The way the game is changing and the money now involved in this format means we will see players making themselves Twenty20 specialists and England are likely to turn to them more and more. They took specialists like Darren Maddy and Jeremy Snape to the ICC Twenty20 World Cup but weren't fully committed to it, but maybe Napier is the type of player that will now get a look-in.
We discussed his England chances after the game and were in agreement that international class means international class, whether it's in a Test, ODI or Twenty20 game. Facing Makhaya Ntini at the death is the very pinnacle of the game, but from what we saw on Tuesday, Napier certainly has the tools.
He is built like a heavyweight boxer, is solid and extraordinarily strong. And it was interesting to see that his bat had a different weight distribution, with the middle lower down, if you like. Because he usually bats at the end of an innings when the yorkers start coming out, it means he can dig them out and still get power into his shots.
It is something Graham Thorpe used to do when he was going to places like Sri Lanka where he knew there was less bounce and would be batting lower, as it were.
But it is also a sign of the way Twenty20 is changing the sport. I have only been out of the game two-and-a-half to three years and the bats they use nowadays are something else. I still remember the bat I used on my Test debut in 2001: when I picked it up I thought it was the best thing ever, it was big and so light, But it's nothing compared to what's around today.
And there's no doubt Twenty20 has become a batsmen's game. This year you can see they have thought about their tactics - even if it is just blast it and see what happens - and it is no surprise that again, the bowlers who spin it or take the pace off, are have the best economy rates and averages.
We have seen such a surge in the batting this season, probably stemming from Kevin Pietersen's switch hits. I haven't seen anyone do it like that in a game, but we did see Matt Prior in the nets on Tuesday, jumping to the left-handed stance and changing his grip.
He made the point that reverse sweeping it rather than switching grips means you can only really hit the ball through point or behind, whereas the left-handed stance opens the shot up and means you can hit it over cow corner, or help it on finer.
There's no doubt batsmen are giving more and more problems already this season, but I am sure they will react quickly. They do go get a hard time from the rule makers, the pitches and the size of the boundaries - they were brought in considerably at Chelmsford - but they will hit back.
If someone is going to switch hit, the bouncer is the most obvious counter. And even if you are KP, if you try and switch hit a Brett Lee, a Dale Steyn or a Makhaya Ntini, good luck... you're going to wear one!
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