Jimmy Neesham likes to call it the "fastest 47" in ODI cricket, and he's not wrong. After having being in the funk for two years, almost having given up on cricket and then setting himself right, Neesham came back to smack 47 off 13 balls against Sri Lanka on his return. That innings, he says, was 18 months in the making, a reward of all the hard work he had put in when he was away. Yet it was just a score of 47 in a career whose highest score was 74.
The chance to play this World Cup, he admits, was sooner than he expected when he set on path to recovery. He was more philosophical about success and failure. He had now learnt to deal with personal failures much better by looking at his efforts through the team of the prism. He was happier nicking off first ball if New Zealand won than scoring a hundred in a defeat. Deep down, though, there must have been some desire to prove himself in more trying circumstances than walking in at 316 for 5 and smashing the ball around.
It is not ideal but this World Cup has provided him these challenges. There was the tense chase against Bangladesh where he ended up holing out to long-off. They lost two wickets in the first over against West Indies where he did better and added 41 for the fifth wicket Kane Williamson for the fifth wicket and himself ended up with 28 off 23 balls.
WATCH on Hotstar (India only) - Jimmy Neesham's unbeaten 97
At Edgbaston against Pakistan, though, Neesham found himself with a much bigger task. He walked in to join Williamson at 46 for 4, and would soon lose Williamson too. In difficult batting conditions, he battled through, especially when facing the red-hot Shaheen Shah Afridi, and ended up unbeaten on a career-best 97 to give New Zealand a competitive score of 237. This was the longest innings of Neesham's 55-match career. It must give New Zealand some confidence as they continue to struggle with their openers.
On a personal level, that has to feel satisfying. "I'm pretty tired now," was Neesham's immediate reaction after having bowled three overs to go with it. "That's sort of my emotions at the moment, I think. Yeah, obviously, I suppose there's external noise about whether you have the ability to guide an innings like that, and I sort of have the belief in my own ability that I have the ability to come out at 40 for 4 and guide our team to 200-plus and also the ability to come out at 310 for 3 with two overs to go. So it's just about putting it out there, I suppose, and having belief in your own processes.
"Obviously, we had a large period of time where we had to soak up pressure. That was the nature of the wicket and the nature of the bowling attack. We certainly had a belief, if we could get through that hard period, we'd be able to score some runs at the back end, and obviously that's what ended up happening."
Neesham did soak up all the pressure, getting beaten multiple teams by Afridi, but then turning it on towards the end. He scored 26 off the first 58 balls he faced followed by 71 off the next 64. This was a near perfect rearguard in conditions ideal for both seam and spin, for which he was congratulated by Pakistan fielders even as he walked off in the innings break. He, in turn, sought out Afridi to congratulate for the spell he had bowled.
However, Neesham was not willing to draw too much pleasure out of the knock. "It [this innings] is something I'll probably reflect on after the tournament is finished," Neesham said. "I think, obviously, the whole point of trying to graft out our partnership like that is to try to get ourselves in a position to win the game. I feel like we potentially did that. We potentially had a score that was defendable. Obviously, in a game where you lose, you don't take a whole lot of pleasure out of stuff like that."