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Napier's long apprenticeship over

Venues: Lord's, The Oval, Trent Bridge Date: 5-21 June
Coverage: Test Match Special commentary on BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra, Radio 4 LW, Red Button and online, with live text commentary on BBC Sport website & mobiles. Live TV coverage on Sky Sports with highlights on BBC

Graham Napier
Napier has taken a long time to catch the attention of England's selectors

By Oliver Brett

If the development of the individuals involved had progressed as expected, the England players who won the under-19 World Cup in 1998 might now be household names.

Perhaps more importantly, England might have become one of the strongest teams in the world in both 50-over and Twenty20 cricket - but alas neither eventuality has come to pass.

All the same, albeit rather belatedly, some of those world-beaters from 11 years ago are rising to prominence.

While the likes of Jamie Grove, Giles Haywood and Nick Wilton have long since faded out of first-class cricket, four of them - Owais Shah, Graeme Swann, Rob Key and Graham Napier - are in England's squad for the ICC World Twenty20.

Napier is the out-and-out rookie, the only one never to have played for his country at senior level.

Graham Napier batting for Essex in Twenty20 cricket
Napier's no-nonsense hitting attracted the Indian Premier League scouts

And though he has been involved in representative cricket for years - he played for Essex's under-nines with his close mate and now England team-mate James Foster - it took an outrageous innings by "Napes" last summer to vault him from county cricket's treadmill to the cusp of international recognition.

One balmy night in Chelmsford, he hit 16 sixes against Sussex, blazing 152 off just 58 deliveries.

Almost immediately he began to be linked with the second season of the Indian Premier League, and though a two-week stint at the Mumbai Indians yielded just one appearance, he remains positive about the entire experience.

"My experience from there was very short but also very sweet," he tells BBC Sport.

"To be involved with the Mumbai Indians and the side they had was a fantastic experience. I gained a lot of confidence and knowledge out of it.

"I was able to mix in with the best players in the world, just being able to practise with them... all that experience has to rub off positively on you in some way.

"How often do you get the world's best players - Adam Gilchrist and Herschelle Gibbs batting together in one side, Brendon McCullum and Chris Gayle opening the batting in another - probably the best batting line-ups you can come up with? And the bowling too - it's the highest level of cricket I've ever been involved with."

I can change the course of a game and it would only take me a short space of time to do that. I see myself as match-winner

Graham Napier

Because of his reputation as a big-hitting batsman, it is sometimes overlooked that Napier's primary suit is his brisk and accurate seam bowling.

"I'm an opening bowler for Essex. I bat at eight, but can be used in the top three depending on a gut feeling, or tactics or how we feel we need to play the game.

"I'm a little bit more than a useful batsman in that role. I can change the course of a game and I see myself as match-winner. It would only take me a short space of time, whether with the ball or bat, to do that."

They are confident words, but when you consider how arduous and, frankly, slow Napier's progression has been, you can understand his almost impatient desire to succeed at the highest level.

He is now 29, and the opportunities will not be limitless.

"It's been a long progression for me to get to this point but I'm here now and I'm going to enjoy it and make the most of it.

BBC Sport's Oliver Brett

"Everyone dreams of making their debut as a young man for England and going out and setting the world on fire. Other people have to work hard and slog away in county cricket and that's the route I've taken, with injuries and loss of form along the way.

"Over the last two years I've been very lucky and have had no major injuries. Prior to that I've had stress fractures, which is something a lot of bowlers go through, along with other more strange injuries like a bruised heel - which almost cost me a whole season - and a hamstring tear right in the middle of a good season.

"They do cost you but it's something you can use and gain a lot of experience out of and it makes me value every game I play - and especially getting to this level - even more."

If he does slot into England's Twenty20 side, he does so in a team deprived of its primary all-rounder, Andrew Flintoff, but with two settled ones in Dimitri Mascarenhas and Paul Collingwood.

Graham Napier bowling at Lord's last year
Bowling in the Friends Provident Trophy final last year, which Essex won

He is taking nothing for granted but when England ask him to perform, he will jump at the chance.

"At the moment I'll just take a position in the team. I'm not going to pencil myself in anywhere, but in an ideal world I would be doing what I do for Essex, taking the new ball.

"It's tough in that side with Stuart Broad and James Anderson, so possibly I'm looking at a first change role, batting at seven or eight.

"With Freddie [Flintoff] in the side it gives them a lot more options, without him they need someone to come in and do his role, being tight and economical with the bowling, good at the death and then in the middle order take the game away from the opposition with attacking batting."

Could Napier really be a ready-made replacement for Flintoff? The two men have not been mentioned in the same breath very often in the past 10 years, but suddenly the thought does not appear completely ridiculous.

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see also
Superb Netherlands shock England
05 Jun 09 |  England
Wright guides England to huge win
03 Jun 09 |  Cricket
World Twenty20 warm-up photos
03 Jun 09 |  Cricket
World Twenty20 teams guide
03 Jun 09 |  Cricket
World Twenty20 ones to watch
31 May 09 |  Cricket
Collingwood confident of success
31 May 09 |  Cricket
ICC World Twenty20 2009 results
21 Jun 09 |  Cricket
ICC World Twenty20 squads
10 Jun 09 |  Cricket

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