Nineteen years after first stepping out for Essex, big hitting all-rounder Graham Napier is hanging up his boots for the final time, but not before he completed his best season with the ball.
Few could sign off their playing career in quite the style Napier has managed, taking 97 wickets across all formats, including more than 50 in the Championship for the first time.
And as he bows out he does so having helped secure his boyhood club promotion back to the top tier after six years of trying.
“Nineteen years at your home county, it’s been one of the best experiences anybody could ever wish for,” Napier says. “Starting out as a 16-year-old at the club to then go on and finish my career this year with the Division Two title has made it that little bit sweeter.
“There are too many highlights to mention all, but I think in terms of four-day cricket this year has been my highlight in taking wickets. It’s difficult to pinpoint a specific highlight, you get paid to play cricket for a living, that’s a highlight.”
Despite enjoying one of his best seasons as a cricketer, Napier has no plans to put off retirement, although his younger Essex team-mates did attempt to start a petition to keep him for one more year.
But having dedicated himself for the past 12 months to ensure his last season was one to remember, and a new coaching role waiting, his body is ready for a rest.
“This year is not just about the last six months but has been a year in progress,” Napier adds. “This time last year I decided to announce my retirement and take on a job at the Royal Hospital School in Ipswich, so there was a lot of fitness and hard work from this time last year to now that physically I don’t know if there’s anything left in the tank.
“In a few weeks I start at the school as a head of cricket and starting up the Graham Napier Cricket Academy, and I’m going into that role hopeful of producing a young Essex or England player. We’ve already had Reece Topley go through the school. It would be nice to have another player on the production line.”
"Nineteen years at your home county, it’s been one of the best experiences anybody could ever wish for."
For now, celebrating the Division Two title and achievements this summer still occupy Napier’s time. Yet after coming close in the three previous seasons, finishing third each time including recording the highest points tally without clinching promotion, where does Napier feel Essex won the title?
“I think if you look at our batting we’ve always been lacking in bonus points in the past few years, so to see Tom Westley, Daniel Lawrence and Ryan ten Doeschate getting around that 1,000 run mark and more has been a crucial difference in getting those first innings batting points and giving us bowlers a chance to win matches and get the bowling points.
“It was an attritional season. A lot of hard fought games all the way down to the wire, whether they be saving games or winning them right at the end as opposed to games that finish early. That side has been great for the youngsters to learn about playing across four days and how to score runs and second innings wickets for the bowlers.”
And prior to undertaking his new coaching job, is there any advice he’d pass on to the current young professionals making their way in the game?
“Listen to the senior guys,” he replies with a grin. “They’ve been around on the circuit long enough. The more you’re listening to them the more knowledge they’re passing on to you and your progress up the ladder will be quicker.
“I wish I had done it sooner, but we’re all head strong when we’re young and think we know everything and we don’t. And that knowledge that you can pick up from a young age is crucial.”