- Born 5 November 1880, Co Wexford
- Died August 1967, Ganges Harbour, Salt Spring Island, British Columbia, Canada
- Educated Shrewsbury School, Dublin University
- Occupation Civil Engineer
- Debut 3 August 1908 v Philadelphia at College Park
- Cap Number 265
- Style Right hand bat, slow left arm
- Teams Dublin University
Willie Napper was a good orthodox slow left armer, who could usually be relied on to bowl out lesser opposition. Against higher-class batsmen, he had his moments, but was sometimes collared, his economy rate for Ireland, 4.62, is somewhat poor for a bowler of his quality. At Shrewsbury, he was in the XI for three years, winning his colours, but was then a medium pacer.
Lillywhite's Annual wrote of his second season (1899) "Should use his head more, study the batsmen's individualities, and combine greater accuracy with more variety of pace ..." These comments were heeded, but, alas, a further one was just as true a decade later, "not much of a bat at present" Entering Dublin University in 1903, he spent the following summer in the Second XI, before gravitating to the Firsts in 1905, where he was to remain until he left University after the 1909 season. He was captain in his penultimate summer.
He obtained a large percentage of wickets from stumpings. Pat Hone, a safe but not outstanding keeper, wrote that to keep wicket to him was a joy and flattering to a novice stumper, "His very slow deliveries were almost all on the off side as he lured the batsmen to get after him, and he could pitch the ball on a sixpence."
As has been suggested, he was at his most effective against weaker sides. Thus, in a 12-a-side with County Kilkenny in 1907, he took 10-12. He also had 10 in the match against Cork County in 1906, though his full figures have not been found: all told against the Munster men, he played six times and took 30 wickets. He also had a 9 wicket haul against Co Wicklow in 1910, though his full analysis have not been seen. Apart from the above, he had ten in a match on at least a further 9 occasions, including 14 twice. It would be unfair to leave the impression that all these were against mediocre opponents, as the batsmen of Phoenix, Pembroke, Curragh Brigade and Co Kildare would have agreed.
The full figures have been lost for some of these matches including one against the most intriguing of all opposition in a game at Waterford in 1908. Here he followed a first innings 5 wicket haul, with 9 in the second against... Christendom! Possibly both the zenith and nadir of his career came in 1908 against Cambridge. Napper was captain, and, after many rain breaks, he took 6-35, to bowl the Light Blues out for 73, leaving the hosts 36 ahead, "on a muddy College Park wicket." Little time was left, but he declared leaving Cambridge to get 122, in 75 minutes, which they did by 10 wickets. "His team mates were less than amused" according to the Dublin University Cricket Club History. In all for the XI, though, he took 420 wickets in his five seasons with over 100 in each of his last two. He can surely be forgiven the declaration!
These performances brought him Irish selection in 1908. Then, and in the following year, he became an automatic choice. It has to be admitted that he was not an unqualified success. His figures, 20 wickets for an average of 18.90 from 7 matches, are not poor, but 12 were in one match, against All New York on the American tour of 1909, the weakest opposition he encountered in cap matches. It is true that he played four times against Philadelphia, still a strong side then, though in decline, and once against Yorkshire, but his figures remain disappointing for a bowler of his capabilities. He did take 47 wickets on the American tour, but of these, 31 were in non-cap matches, including 8-33 v Canada and 6-35 against Baltimore. The strength of the latter side is best shown that Napper, who only batted number 11 because most matches were not 12 a side," played a lively innings of 47.
He made his home in Canada after the tour, returning to Europe, however, to fight in the Great War. In the RASC, he was rapidly commissioned, promoted, and reached the rank of Major. His bravery and leadership gained him the Military Cross.