Brillant Napier leads Eagles to victory
Graham Napier was once again the hero of the hour for Essex as his magnificent all-round display inspired the Eagles into finals day of the Twenty20 Cup with a 59-run victory over Northamptonshire.
Napier blazed 40 off 20 balls before taking 4-10 with the ball in another scintillating display which strengthens his already powerful case for a place in England's Twenty20 squad.
After winning the toss, skipper Mark Pettini and Ravi Bopara made good use of the opening six overs of field restrictions as the hosts went past 50 at a quick rate with relatively little danger.
Bopara top-scored with a 26-ball 47 which included seven fours and two sixes as he adapted to his make-shift opening role in place of Alastair Cook in stunning fashion.
Pettini and Bopara both fell in quick succession as the Steelbacks spinners took control. With the crowd waiting with bated breath for the arrival of rising star Napier to the crease, they were shocked to see the six-hitting sensation held back at number five.
The plan worked superbly as spin specialist Grant Flower (33) and James Foster (26) kept the scoreboard ticking over.
Napier made his way to the middle with five overs remaining and promptly began dispatching the Steelbacks' attack to all parts of the packed out Chelmsford ground and beyond.
Andrew Hall pegged the Eagles back with a superb final over which saw three wickets fall, including Napier with just four further runs added. English off-spinner James Brown was the pick of the Northants bowlers as he finished with 2-29 off his four overs.
After a brief rain delay Northants, needing a revised target of 175 off 18 overs, got off to the worst possible start when Rob White was dismissed second ball by David Masters without a run being scored.
Napier took the new-ball with Masters and made a sensational start by dismissing key duo Hall and David Sales during a remarkable double-wicket maiden which had the home support in ecstasy.
Napier's stunning spell continued when he found the edge of Riki Wessels' bat and Foster took a smart catch to leave Northants in turmoil at 11-4 - Napier with figures of 3-1 off his opening two overs.
Any feint hopes the Steelbacks had of salvaging something from their innings were all but over when Masters clean bowled Niall O'Brien (6) to claim his second wicket and finish with superb figures of 2-17 from his allocation.
Skipper Nicky Boje (56 not out ) fought back bravely with compatriot Lance Klusener (21), but it was Napier who had the last say as he dismissed 'Zulu' with the last ball of the innings to complete a 59-run win.