Napier relishes chance to be back with Firebirds

GRAHAM NAPIER: "Twenty20 is harsh. As a bowler you can be both the hero and the villain in the same game."
GRAHAM NAPIER: "Twenty20 is harsh. As a bowler you can be both the hero and the villain in the same game."

Bowling at cones has seldom looked such fun.

Graham Napier is a sunny sort of fella anyway, but having the sun on his back and wind in his hair sure brought a smile to the Wellington Twenty20 import's face yesterday.

With England in the depths of winter, and in despair at the way events have unfolded in the Ashes series, Karori Park was a darn sight more attractive than the draughty nets the 33-year-old's been training in back home.

Napier arrived in Wellington on Wednesday for what will be his third stint as a Firebird, with two turns at playing for Central Districts sandwiched in between.

He's just come off a big season for Essex, where he played a full County Championship season, as well as the usual assortment of limited-overs stuff.

After a couple of tough years, when elbow and knee ligament injuries threatened to send him into early retirement, Napier relishes the idea that a team in New Zealand might still want him.

Twenty20 is a tough way to earn a living though, as he's only too well aware. Wellington resume their campaign on December 27 and Napier has got out good and early to ensure he gets plenty of practice in, as well as a club game for Hutt District today.

"It's just great to be outdoors," a panting Napier said after finishing a spell of bowling into an empty net.

"Twenty20 is harsh. As a bowler you can be both the hero and the villain in the same game. You can get off to a great start and all of a sudden one over goes for 20 and you end up with 40 off your bowling figures."

But Napier's proved himself adept at coping with that challenge. Once a Mumbai Indian and a former winner of the New Zealand domestic Twenty20 competition with CD, he believes never getting too high or too low is critical to your success. Oh, and working hard.

So there he was yesterday, practising four types of yorkers, with one of Wellington's coaches calling out which one as Napier loaded up to deliver. There are a lot of things a bowler can't control in Twenty20 cricket, but having a reliable yorker at least gives you something to fall back on.

"It's guaranteed that one of the bowlers, in any game, will go round the park. But, as a team and as a bowling unit, if you can keep it to one bowler then you give yourself a decent chance.

"If it's you [getting hit] it's a case of accepting it and moving on."

In 98 T20 games around the world, Napier's career economy rate is under 7.5, which is pretty fair for someone who's bowling without protection during the first six overs and then at the death.

It's a hugely demanding role, but one that Napier approaches with simple goals in mind.

"Not to go for runs and to take wickets," he said. "You've got to assess the situation and assess the batter and read what they're going to do. We play on some small grounds out here [in New Zealand] and defending small boundaries is tough, so you have to have specific game plans in terms of batsmen, grounds and wickets."

And if all that fails, hopefully you get a turn with the bat.

Napier hits a big ball, as he showed back in 2008 when he clubbed his way to 152 not out in a Twenty20 game against Sussex. He hit a world record 16 sixes along the way, which you imagine Eastern Suburbs won't want to see repeated today at Kilbirnie Park when Napier turns out for Hutt.

"I'll get 10 overs under my belt and hopefully a bit of batting and it'll set me up for the [Twenty20] campaign."

Taita host Karori in the other top-four clash, with Johnsonville at home to University, Naenae hosting Upper Hutt, Wellington Collegians meeting Wainuiomata and Petone-Eastbourne away to Onslow. North City play the under-20s tomorrow.


What: Wellington men's club cricket draw
When: From 11am today Eastern Suburbs v Hutt District, Kilbirne; Taita v Karori, Fraser; Naenae v Upper Hutt, Naenae; Wainuiomata v Wellington Collegians, Petone Rec; Onslow v Petone-Eastbourne, Nairnville; University v Johnsonville, Alex Moore; North City v Wellington under-20, Linden (tomorrow)

The Dominion Post