Napier: I Tried, In Vain, For Tendulkar To Play In Their Pre-Defence > Cricket News, cricinfo, mobilecric, cricbuzz, livescore and more
Cricket news - Napier: Tried, in vain, to get Tendulkar to play forward defence
A solid performer at county level, the 2008 season, the best of his career in T20 cricket, thrust him into the spotlight.
In this new Cricbuzz series - The IPL Benchwarmers - we talk to players who made it to the IPL alright, but didn't go very far, and were out of opportunities - and reckoning - sooner than they'd have liked. Please see other stories from this topic here.
It didn't take long for Graham Napier to realise the sort of company he was keeping. It struck him during one of his early net sessions as a Mumbai Indian, bowling to the team's captain, Sachin Tendulkar. "He just practiced one shot. He was playing an open faced run down to a very fine third man. It was to literally every single ball I bowled. No matter where I tried to bowl it, he played it with ease. I came out of the nets thinking, crikey what have I got to do to get him to play a forward defence?"
Being challenged was something Napier got used to during his two years with the franchise. He had played with some fine players at Essex. Nasser Hussain, Alastair Cook, Ravi Bopara. But that Mumbai Indians group was something else. "It was a who's who of world cricket," he says of his first day in South Africa, where the 2009 tournament was played. "Tendulkar, Dwayne Bravo, Lasith Malinga, Sanath Jayasuria, JP Duminy, Ryan McLaren." Zaheer Khan and Harbhajan Singh, too. "I was putting myself against the very best in world cricket."
Unlike those players, Napier was not a household name. A solid performer at county level, the 2008 season, the best of his career in T20 cricket, thrust him into the spotlight. In particular, a barnstorming 152 not out off 58 balls against Sussex, containing sixteen sixes, made people sit up and take notice. It was the innings of Napier's career. It was the innings that sent him to the IPL.
With the rules as they were at that time, a non-international like Napier didn't qualify to enter the IPL auction. His deal was done directly with the Indians instead. They negotiated the terms of his contract over the phone. He would become one of the first English players to take part in the IPL and the first non-England international to do so. The money wasn't earth shattering. But money wasn't a motivation. "It was about getting a foot in the door and about enjoying the experience," he says.
Although Essex only allowed him to play the first part of the tournament, he was determined to do just that. Each training session was an opportunity to learn, a chance to observe. He took it all in, even smallest things. "When Sachin trained, it was all about the details," Napier says. "His head was always down. His head never came up when he was hitting a shot. Never. Those were the little things he worked on."
There was a fielding session led by the South African, Jonty Rhodes, one of the coaches. It opened Napier's eyes to the intensity and work ethic required to become the world's best, as Rhodes was during his playing days. "Coming from county cricket where sometimes you protect yourself and don't put it in as much as you should to a session with Jonty where he is smacking balls at you and he expects you to stop them. He expected us to work really, really hard."
That first season, Napier only played one match, against Kolkata Knight Riders in East London. It would turn out to be the only time he would don the blue of Mumbai Indians. "In the build up to the game, I had been called up to the T20 WC squad for that summer," Napier says. "In the space of 24 hours I'd had a phone call from the Chairman of Selectors, Dusty Miller, who told me I'd been selected. Then I got a tap on the shoulder saying you're playing tomorrow. It was one of the most exciting 24 hours of my life."
Napier made 15 from 16 balls as Mumbai set KKR 149 to win and then he took the new ball alongside Zaheer Khan. Opening the batting for KKR were Chris Gayle and Sourav Ganguly, although he only lasted one ball. At three, the Australian Brad Hodge. "I remember Sachin saying you go with what you feel is right, go with your instinct. Hit line and length or if you want to go for a change up, go with it and express yourself."
At one stage, KKR were going well at 97 for 2. Then Napier had Morne van Wyk caught at long-on. After that, the Knight Riders lost their way and Mumbai ran out comfortable winners. Napier's figures were a very respectable 1 for 27 from four overs and the wicket of van Wyk had been an important intervention. Yet he couldn't savour his big moment. Instead, he had to leave the match early to get on a flight back home for the start of the county season with Essex.
He returned the following year, again for a short period. This time, the tournament was in India although Napier would not get a game, the strength of the squad's overseas players arguably better than in 2009 following the arrival of Kieron Pollard. Napier still loved training with the world's best, though, still loved the atmosphere and the glamour.
He had been to India before and fallen in love with the vibrancy and the energy and the food. Particularly the food. But in 2010, security was tight for the first IPL in the country since the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks. The players were confined to their hotels and the grounds so Napier, much to his disappointment, couldn't get out to explore. The only real escape were a couple of trips to the home of the owners, the Ambani family, for BBQs.
"The owners were building their home at that time," he says. "I say a home. It was very different to what you and I would live in. It was essentially a sky scraper. We were able to nip into the ballroom they have at the bottom of the building. It was a different world to anything I'd ever seen."
The family struck him as humble and welcoming, just as Tendulkar had. He doesn't know why that surprised him but it did. They're just people after all. He got to spend a bit of time with Tendulkar. "We were talking about playing in India in dewy conditions through to what cars we drove," Napier remembers. "Mine happened to be a Ford Focus at the time and I think his was a Porsche 911 Turbo full souped up. Just a little difference between the two."
While Napier loved his experience in 2009 in South Africa, being part of the IPL in India was something else. "The noise from the grounds was like nothing I'd heard before even at a Premier League football match," he says. "We played a match at Wankehde Stadium versus Deccan Chargers. There were 50 to 55,000 people there. I was 12th man so I asked to have a bowl in the middle at the coin toss. Sachin walked out and the place erupted to the point where you couldn't hear someone one metre away shouting at you." After that, Napier understood. There's Chelmsford raucous. Then there's daylight. Then there's IPL raucous.
He considered putting his name in the hat for the 2011 auction at the minimum price. But given he was not an international player - he didn't get a game for England during the 2009 T20 WC - he worked out that he would earn less than if he stayed home and played for Essex. Approaching 30, he figured it was not the time to be losing money.
Napier played for another six seasons in Chelmsford before retiring, a much respected one club man. He is now the cricket professional at Royal Hospital School in Suffolk, teaching the next generation of kids how to bowl quick and hit long, just like he did. Maybe one day he will tell the children he teaches about the time he bowled to Sachin Tendulkar, pitting his wits against one of the best to have ever played the game, trying, in vain, to get him to play a forward defence.
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