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How 18 months away made Jimmy Neesham fall in love with cricket, again

A quick look at James (Jimmy) Neesham’s Twitter account will tell you that the New Zealand all-rounder is one of the funniest and most honest blokes on social media. His witty one-liners and the ability to often laugh at his own shortcomings make him a favourite among his fans. But what this funny exterior doesn’t show is every single day of those 18 months that he spent away from cricket – in an attempt to love it back.

A left-handed batsman and a right-arm medium-pacer, Neesham burst on to the international scene in 2012, when he was first drafted in New Zealand’s T20I side. He went on to make his ODI and Test debuts in the next couple of years, giving promising glimpses of his talent and potential as a complete cricketer. But poor form and niggling injuries meant that his performances were on the decline and the consistency just wasn’t there. He couldn’t make the cut for the 2015 World Cup co-hosted by his home nation, memories of which continued to haunt him in the aftermath. He still remained a part of the setup but was dropped immediately after the 2017 Champions Trophy. The message was clear – he needed to go back to the grind of domestic cricket and earn his place.

While it’s the pressure that usually gets the best out of someone, too much pressure can have a reversing effect. In Neesham’s case, the harder he tried to prove his mettle, the faster was his downward spiral. There was a time he’d wake up in the morning, open the curtains and hope for it to rain. It was at this time that he made the call to Heath Mills, CEO of the New Zealand Players Association to inform him of his decision to retire. Mills suggested he take a short break and then see how he felt. Neesham obliged.

At the end of the 2017-18 season, Neesham made his comeback with Otago, the team he played 7 years for, and gradually started making runs and picking wickets. By this time, he was already seeing a psychologist who helped him deal with the pressures. Then, a move to Wellington brought about some much-needed luck. A fruitful outing in a domestic one-day tournament not only got him the selectors’ attention but also an international call-up to face Sri Lanka. In one of the matches in that series, Neesham struck five sixes in five balls off a Thisara Perera over.

In April 2019, life came a full circle for Neesham, who was picked in the 15-man New Zealand squad for the upcoming World Cup in England & Wales. 8 matches into the tournament so far, the 28-year old has already collected 11 wickets and has scored 201 runs batting lower down the order. With age and good form on his side, Neesham could once again be on course to become the true New Zealand all-rounder they wanted him to be.

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