A few of England's second string players have been quietly getting on with their cricket Down Under (assuming 'Down Under' includes New Zealand?) over the winter, some with more success than others!
Ravi Bopara has been plying his trade as Auckland's overseas player, and Owais Shah and Graham Napier have been fulfilling the same role for Wellington and Central Districts respectively. Owais Shah had the fewest opportunities because Auckland failed to make the final while the other two did, but he did ok in the games he did play, averaging 28.5 with a high score of 65 and an impressive strike rate of 145, the tenth best in the HRV Cup (New Zealand's Twenty20 Cup).
Bopara was less impressive, averaging just 17 with only one fifty, and a lacklustre strike rate of just 100, he above all will be very disappointed with that return. He did chip in with 12 wickets along the way though, coming at 21 apiece which is a decent return.
Napier though continues to impress me. He bowls quicker than you think, I remember a televised game last year and he was up around 85-86mph, and it gets him plenty of wickets. He ended the competition as the top wicket taker with 18 at 16 apiece, and his economy rate of 6.9 was better even than the eternally frugal Dan Vettori. That included a potentially tournament-winning spell of 2-17 off 3 overs in the final which featured the wicket of one RS Bopara.
Napier didn't get many opportunities with the bat, only featuring in 8 of the 11 games, and mostly coming in at number 8 or below, so his average of 8.8 doesn't tell us much. I think he probably deserves to come in a bit higher to show off his devastating hitting, though even at Essex he often comes in very low down.
I know that the NZ domestic competition mightn't be the strongest in the world, but its not bad, the likes of Vettori, Oram, Taylor and Franklin all played throughout. I really think a player like Napier deserves a chance in Twenty20s for England, and with yet another World Twenty20 just around the corner, a side with him and Mascarenhas in it could spring a real surprise.
Note: Ross Taylor hit a faintly ridiculous 80 off 30 balls in the final, I really think Surrey should look no further for the Twenty20 Cup!
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