A CANTERBURY batsman who gave the touring England Lions a miserable time in North Island has been drafted into New Zealand's provisional squad for the ICC World Twenty20, but the mystery of Graham Napier, well respected on North Island, continues.
Shanan Stewart lashed 88 not out off 39 balls against Rob Key's team at New Plymouth as New Zealand A piled up 227 for six off their 20 overs, a total never challenged. Stewart, from Christchurch, hit seven sixes that day and now appears among 30 names with newcomers Brent Arnel, a successful seamer against the Lions, Rob Nicol, Kieran Noema-Barnett and Bradley Scott.
Stewart's emergence at a relatively mature age of 27 puts the focus on England's strange insistence on omitting Napier, 30, from even their wider provisional twenty20 squad. He was in the main squad for the 2009 ICC World Twenty20 in England, but was never given a game. The promotion of former Essex team-mate Andy Flower to England coach has not worked in his favour.
The all-rounder was notably successful at Wellington in New Zealand during the 2008/09 winter and is still regarded as an exceptional short-form player in county cricket. Signed by Central Districts for 2009/10, he produced 73 not out off 29 balls to beat Northern Districts in a 50-over game against all odds at Palmerston North in December before returning to Mumbai Indians for the IPL's 2010 season.
Napier and the Essex club were very unhappy when England announced their selections. No one can hide from the fact he hit 152 off 58 balls against Sussex at Chelmsford in 2008, hitting 16 sixes over admittedly short boundaries. Will Luke, of cricinfo, aptly described the innings as "unabashed mayhem" in a focus on players 'born for twenty20'.
Napier said on grahamnapier.com: "I’m deeply disappointed not to be involved in the 30-man squad, having played well in Twenty20 cricket over the winter. I feel twenty20 is a form of the game that suits me well, and the more experience I’ve gained in it the more effective I have become."
It is a shame his form in the IPL will make no realistic difference to England's attitude. "There is an opportunity for me over the next few weeks – as one of only eight English players involved in the IPL – to show the England selectors what they are missing out on," Napier said.
"But my job now is to focus on being as good a player I can be for Mumbai Indians, Essex and Central Districts. I have always been told that if you work hard, you get your rewards. So I need to keep doing that." Unfortunately England might make an exception when it suits them.
Provisional England Twenty20 squad:
Paul Collingwood (capt), James Anderson, Ian Bell, Ravi Bopara, Tim Bresnan, Stuart Broad, Steven Davies, Joe Denly, Steven Finn, Craig Kieswetter, Michael Lumb, Sajid Mahmood, Dimitri Mascarenhas, Eoin Morgan, Graham Onions, Kevin Pietersen, Liam Plunkett, Matt Prior, Adil Rashid, Owais Shah, Ajmal Shahzad, Ryan Sidebottom, Graeme Swann, James Tredwell, Peter Trego, Jonathan Trott, David Wainwright, Chris Woakes, Luke Wright, Michael Yardy.