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Jimmy Neesham didn’t ‘take up baking’. Instead he served up a miracle

Neesham England
Aadya Sharma by Aadya Sharma
@Aadya_Wisden 3 minute read

Jimmy Neesham fell short of finishing the game against England at Lord’s two years ago, but completed a full circle by downing the same opponents in Abu Dhabi last night, playing an instrumental hand in their semi-final triumph, writes Aadya Sharma.

Jimmy Neesham is still sitting there.

Mystified, not mortified like last time, by the vagaries of the sport. It’s been 850 days since he asked kids to not play sport, take up “baking or something”, and “die at 60 really fat and happy”.

Not anymore. At least, not for a while.

As he sat on his chair in Abu Dhabi, surrounded by wildly ecstatic teammates in the dugout, he must have felt a surge of that feeling called vindication passing inside. Two years since that evening at Lord’s, that godforsaken tied-but-lost final, Neesham’s life had turned around. He had played a significant role in carrying New Zealand to the final, clattering an 11-ball 27 in a lively chase. No one’s going to talk about the 2019 heartbreak for a while. He can finally enjoy redemption in its truest sense.

On Wednesday, to take off, Neesham played a near-identical stroke to the one in the Super Over against Jofra Archer in 2019. That one brought the equation down to 7 off 4 in the final stretch; in Abu Dhabi, it started an incredible pursuit, bringing the divide down to 51 off 23.

Neesham had only faced one delivery before that, and Jordan had conceded 10 runs in two overs. Two balls and eight runs later, Neesham had another swipe towards deep mid-wicket, where Jonny Bairstow dived and tumbled at the ropes, giving away six runs in a valiant attempt. It felt like a role reversal to the Trent Boult incident from two years ago. Too many parallels, but it was all going New Zealand’s way this time.

By the end of it, Neesham had looted 23 runs off Jordan’s six balls, and the tables had flipped.

Next over, he clanked a six off Adil Rashid, an effortless slog while down on one knee, clean and crisp. After the game, Eoin Morgan marvelled at his ability to hit sixes from ball one. Neesham’s innings lasted just one more ball, but in those 11 deliveries, he had given their chase the right push.

When he was dismissed, it felt like a long, long walk back, Neesham shaking his head and looking up. You couldn’t imagine the frustration he would have felt, taking the team so close and leaving the job unfinished. From requiring 14.25 runs every over after the 16th, to finishing with six balls to spare, New Zealand proceeded to pull off a heist. Neesham sat on one side of the dugout as Mitchell picked up the rest of the work, and sat stone-faced as he hit the winning stroke. That picture isn’t going out of public memory anytime soon.

Neesham contemplated leaving the sport 18 months before the 2019 World Cup call-up, and will now be lining up in the team’s third global tournament final in three years. “This game is stupid lol,” as Neesham recently said. The mental anguish would have been nerve-wracking after Lord’s. He can finally breathe easy.

Even as Neesham sat there silently, the memes and jokes were being made, its own fitting tribute to a cricketer who lives and stars online more than any other. ‘He’s just thinking what to tweet,’ was the common thread. It was worth waiting for.

“Job finished? I don’t think so”

In a way though, the redemption is complete.

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