World Cup 2019: James Neesham's tryst with fate
- A bittersweet tale of New Zealand's Super Over soldier who nearly pulled it off for the Kiwis in one of the greatest ODIs of all time.
It has barely been over two days since England were crowned champions. The cricketing world is hungover, still trying to make sense of how a dour World Cup final changed tracks to turn into one of the closest encounters in cup competitions across the world of sports. Those on the periphery of this elite game are navigating social media to gauge what this sudden fuss is all about.
It was a case of so near yet so far for the nice guys of cricket. They battled a low score, the belligerent English batting line-up as well as misfortune in the field and came up trumps only to fall foul of the laws of the game.
The Kiwis entrusted James Neesham with the task of gunning down 16 runs against world cricket's latest superstar in Jofra Archer. This was quite a turnaround for Neesham after having endured a mid-career slump at one point in which he nearly quit the game after being repeatedly overlooked. He returned to the side with the New Zealand squad tantalizingly close to being finalized for this edition. All it took was a 13-ball 47 against Sri Lanka which included 5 sixes off a Thisara Perera over.
Neesham had had a decent World Cup. He had embodied the spirit of New Zealand's brand of cricket - being relentless and disciplined - contributing to the notion of the team being greater than the sum of its parts. Figures of 5/31 against an ever inspired Aghanistan and an unbeaten 97 in a rescue act against Pakistan were the highlights of his sojourn until he was summoned at dusk on the fateful Sunday afternoon.
The southpaw knocked off 13 by himself after a nervous Joffra Archer had begun with a wide. When Martin Guptill was caught short of his crease scampering for the non-existent second run, the all-rounder could only turn around and experience that sinking feeling. He simply could not have done any more.
What set the affable social media wisecrack apart from the rest of the 21 blokes participating was that this was not the first time he had played in a game of such epic proportions. In 2013, as a 23-year-old rookie plying his trade for the little fancied Otago Volts, he found himself named in the eleven to face Highveld Lions from South Africa in the now-defunct Champions League Twenty20.
The encounter in Jaipur culminated in a thrilling tie with both sides having managed 167 each. Neesham aced the chase making an unbeaten 52 off 25 illustrated with 4 sixes while the batsmen around him failed to make it into double digits.
He walked out once again for the Super Over, a bit of a novelty back in those days having replaced the bowl out not too long ago. With the help of skipper Brendon McCullum, the pair of them managed to take 13 off Sohail Tanvir with Neesham managing to get him away to the fence first ball and McCullum finishing it off with a maximum.
It was 14 to get for Highveld Lions to seal the game when Neesham was handed the ball despite the presence of Neil Wagner in the ranks. Quinton de Kock was in no mood to allow the contest any leeway as he smoked the first ball for a boundary following it up with a six leaving young Jimmy only 4 to defend of as many deliveries. His perfect night had just been turned upside down.
He bowled a full delivery outside off to get De Kock off strike with a single and got Jean Symes to hole out at mid off the next. 3 runs were needed off 2 now but the dangerman De Kock was back on strike. A single was what he could muster off the delivery aimed away from his body. Dwaine Pretorious now had to score 2 runs off the last delivery to win the game. He managed to get the ball away but was run out trying to complete the victory lap. The Super Over was thus tied and the Volts claimed the victory having hit just one boundary more than the Lions.
Neesham was named the Man of the Match and basking in glory proclaimed it to be the biggest night of his life. Little did he know that he would have to do it all over again 6 years down the line for his country in a World Cup final only to end up on the side which hit fewer boundaries.
Life came a full circle for Jimmy Neesham on the 14th of July 2019 but he is richer for the experience. He is destiny's child, a man for a Super Over.
Also read – World cup head to head statsPublished 17 Jul 2019, 07:43 IST