Colchester-born Graham Napier marked his last innings at Castle Park by not only helping Essex save the game against Sussex, but helping himself to his first County Championship century for four years.
Napier, who retires next month after 20 years in the county game, brought back memories of his big-hitting innings in T20 cricket as he hit 17 fours and four sixes in his 155-ball 124.
Napier joined his captain Ryan ten Doeschate with Essex seven down for 244 just before lunch, and only 154 ahead of Sussex. Ten Doeschate had been obdurate in compiling 109 from 208 balls to lead Essex’s attempt to save the game. In the end it became academic as Essex frolicked in the late afternoon sun.
Even David Masters joined in the fun and accelerated to 47 not out before hands were shaken at 4.50pm on the draw that enabled Essex to return to the top of Division Two by a point from Kent.
The draw is Sussex’s ninth in ten championship games and leaves them closer to the bottom of division two than the top.
Essex had started the day only 73 runs ahead at the start of play with six wickets to fall. But the end they were 380 ahead. In the end Sussex had given up the ghost of claiming their second win of the season and even threw the ball to wicketkeeper Ben Brown, who went for 48 off three overs, though he did take his maiden first-class wicket when Napier went for a fourth six on his first over.
It had taken Sussex 14 overs and nearly an hour’s play to make the first breakthrough. James Foster had kept ten Doeschate company for 33 overs while they put on 99 for the fifth wicket before he fell to Chris Jordan’s first ball of a new spell. Foster departed lbw for a patient 38 from 90 balls.
Ten Doeschate had shown such watchfulness that his barely disguised disgust at the shot that dismissed Ashar Zaidi was understandable. Zaidi had just been dropped at long-off by Steve Magoffin when he went for another slog at Danny Briggs and was caught at deep midwicket by Luke Wells for 15.
The Essex captain became freer with his shots immediately after lunch, taking two fours off Jordan’s first over with the new-ball and another through the covers two overs later.
His fourth boundary of the session brought up his second Championship century, cutting David Wiese backward of square, and the 13th and last four of his 208-ball innings came next ball with an effortlessly push through the covers.
Seven balls later, ten Doeschate’s obduracy was ended after 272 minutes when he was bowled around his legs with the first ball of spinner Luke Wells’s spell. His 109 was his fourth fifty-plus Championship score in five innings during which time he has amassed 360 runs.
At that point, Sussex were only 211 behind, 55 overs left, and three tail-end wickets to take before they batted again. But it was then that Napier stepped up to the plate with his best knock of the summer. When he lofted Jordan over midwicket for four, it was his ninth boundary and first Championship fifty of the season.
David Masters stayed with him, his long left leg thrust down the wicket against the spinners, and their eighth-wicket partnership passed 50 in 12 overs when Jofra Archer’s shy at the stumps broke the wicket but raced away for four overthrows.
Like his captain, Napier cut loose after tea. He went from 63 at tea to his hundred in six overs with a succession of belligerent boundaries. There were 17 of them in his 143-ball ton, though the single that got him to the milestone only just cleared midwicket where a stumbling Wiese stuck out a hand but couldn’t take. It was his first three-figure score since his 102 at Old Trafford in 2013.
Sussex brought on wicketkeeper Ben Brown to toss a few up for Napier. Three of the first four balls cleared the ropes on the legside for sixes, but Napier went for a fourth from the last ball and was caught at long-on by Magoffin. It was Brown’s maiden first-class wicket.
His stand with Masters was worth 133 in 28 overs, of which Masters contributed 16.
Don’t miss out on all the latest breaking sports news where you live.
Here are four ways you can be sure you’ll be amongst the first to know what’s going on.
1 Make this website your homepage
2 Like our Facebook page at facebook.com/pages/Sport-Sussex
3 Follow us on Twitter @SportSussex
4 Register with us by clicking on ‘sign in’ (top right corner). You can then receive our daily newsletter AND add your point of view to stories that you read here.
And do share with your family and friends - so they don’t miss out!