World Cup bound Jimmy Neesham was talked out of retirement

New Zealand

New Zealand allrounder Jimmy Neesham came to the brink of retiring 18 months ago amid a battle with form and injury that had seen him fall out of love with cricket.

Neesham spoke about his challenging time as he soaked up the “surreal” experience of securing a spot in the 15-man World Cup squad as his career came full circle in a four-year period. He narrowly missed the cut for the home World Cup in 2015, an experience he described as “gut-wrenching”, when Grant Elliott was preferred at the last minute. Neesham found himself in the stands at Eden Park as Elliott struck that iconic six against South Africa to secure a spot in the final.

Neesham was part of the one-day side over the next two seasons but was dropped after the 2017 Champions Trophy. He was determined to get his place back but it became overwhelming, and coupled with injury his form faded, so he called Heath Mills, the CEO of the New Zealand Players Association, to tell him he wanted to quit having reached the point where he would open his curtains and hope it was raining.

“It came as close as it could get,” Neesham said. “I actually called Heath Mills and told him I was going to retire so I owe a lot to him to convince me to take a little break and come back three or four weeks later. From there, being able to make progress steadily, come back with Wellington and make this team it’s all been a pretty surreal ride.

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“Waking up in the morning, opening the shades and hoping it was raining is not the ideal way to start a day of cricket and I’d basically got to the point where I needed to have a full overhaul in the way I was approaching the game.”

“I put way too much pressure on myself. When I got dropped the start of last season I put a lot of pressure on myself to succeed and wanted to dominate domestic cricket, once that starts going in a downward spiral and you aren’t scoring runs, taking wickets you put more pressure on yourself and it got to the point where it had to break. Luckily I took the advance, took a short break rather than a long break, and since then it’s been on the up and up.”

Mills told Neesham not to pick up a bat for a few weeks then see how he felt and he also sought the help of a psychologist. He made a comeback for Otago at the end of the 2017-18 season although wasn’t sure his heart was in it, but results were promising and then an off-season move to Wellington helped rekindle his passion for the game. It was in the Ford Trophy one-day tournament where he really shone, averaging 62.87 with the bat at a strike-rate of 110.79, which earned him an international recall to face Sri Lanka.

“I saw a psychologist who was really helpful, starting at the bottom and working up to where all these frustrations were coming from,” he said. “I’m not much of communicator at the best of time, just being able talk through some of struggles I was having off the field – it only took four or five sessions to really see some progress.

“I’d given it a good crack trying to get enjoyment from succeeding but once I paid less attention to the runs and wickets, less attention to hitting balls for two hours the day before a game, and just going out and enjoying it that was when the results started to come. It couldn’t have gone better to be honest.

“It’s a long road back from 18 months or so ago but once I got back into the fold with Wellington and was back scoring runs, taking wickets I always knew that in New Zealand you are never too far away if you put in a good couple of months but still to get the call was pretty surreal.”

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