Nerveless Neesham finally gets his moment
Allrounder carries New Zealand to victory after years of near-misses and heartbreak
Jimmy Neesham's first six is a mishit over the deep midwicket boundary. He'd come to the crease with his team needing 59 runs off 29 balls. He'd faced a wide first up; Liam Livingstone firing one down leg side. The next ball Neesham had tried to bash across the line, but managed only to get it as far as midwicket. A single. Even the wide and the single put together wasn't much help. The required rate was over 14.
The six at the start of the next over, though, provides some small squirt of hope. It isn't a giant Livingstonesque hit. It isn't a lusty Asif Ali blow. Chris Jordan misses his length a touch, and because Neesham swings at this with every molecule of his being in the direction he seems most comfortable swinging in, he hits it well enough to clear the midwicket boundary by five metres, even off the inside half of the bat.
Relax, though. New Zealand still need 51 off 23.
It wasn't quite enough.
Lance Cairns hit one over the ropes one-handed. Brendon McCullum occasionally rolled towards point as he scooped balls over fine leg. But arguably the most iconic six in New Zealand's modern history came in that semi-final in 2015. Dale Steyn, one of the greatest cricketers ever to play, needed to defend five runs off two balls, and conceded a six against Grant Elliott, whose selection for that World Cup might fairly be described as one of New Zealand's most unexpected payoffs.
Perhaps Neesham should have been picked ahead of Elliott. But when Elliott hit that six, Neesham was ecstatic. "Holy f***** shitballs," he had tweeted. "This is the best day of my life." An allrounder who had taken his place, clinching a tight semi-final.
Neesham himself, though, hadn't been required in a World Cup campaign that players described as "the time of their life".
He was a talented allrounder, having done well in Tests, plus having been impressive in limited-overs cricket.
Much as Neesham promised at the time, though, he hadn't done anything like Corey Anderson's record-breaking ODI hundred.
And for that reason, it seemed as if what Neesham offered - it wasn't enough.
Neesham's second big shot went in that arc between long-on and deep midwicket.
Ben Stokes had once hit that boundary at Lord's - remember? He'd hit a ball over wide long-on, and although the fielder Trent Boult had taken the catch, he'd touched the boundary with his boot.
Pretty much the same thing here. Neesham had launched one over wide long-on, but although Bairstow took the catch, he touched the boundary before he flicked it back infield. When the replays are consulted, it's clear it's six.
But then, England are masters at the death.
It wasn't quite enough.
For followers of Neesham, these sixes over midwicket are not unfamiliar shots.
In the climax of probably the best limited-overs game in history, he had swung in the same direction. On that occasion, it had been Jofra Archer, in the second (legitimate) ball of the Super Over, who missed his yorker slightly, Neesham stepping across the stumps, whipped it waaay over deep midwicket, deep into the stands. He brought his team's required runs down to seven runs from four balls.
He hit the next two balls for twos and then managed a single. But with two required off the last delivery, his partner Martin Guptill couldn't quite get back for the second, and Jos Buttler took the bails off in one of modern cricket's iconic plays.
Neesham had claimed his team's best figures of 3 for 43. He had been trusted to hit big in the Super Over, and had struck 13 off 5.
But even though New Zealand didn't clinch that World Cup. Neesham did plenty.
Still, it wasn't quite enough.
The third of Neesham's sixes is the ugliest. He's a leftie, and as such, has the match-up against Adil Rashid. He gets down on one knee and throws his entire life into a slog over midwicket. He connects and gets six. Nobody thinks this is a pretty shot. But also nobody cares.
This is the last of Neesham's big shots, though. He gets a single. And when he gets the strike later in this over, tries to hit an offside four, and gets out. By this stage, New Zealand need 20 off 12 balls.
Ideally, Neesham would have hung around, hit another one of his big leg-side shots, and even perhaps scored the winning run. But then, for a player who had been through this much, this was asking a lot. When he'd arrived at the crease a New Zealand victory was barely conceivable. Through the course of his 11 balls at the crease, he'd swung the match definitively in New Zealand's direction.
There are two photographs doing the rounds on social media. One in which the entire New Zealand team are ecstatic, celebrating the win (Daryl Mitchell hit the winning runs) while Neesham is sat expressionless in his plastic chair, in front of the dugout.
Job finished? I don't think so. https://t.co/uBCLLUuf6B— Jimmy Neesham (@JimmyNeesh) November 10, 2021
The second is a photograph of Neesham still in that chair, looking out over the field long after his team-mates have gone back into the dressing room, and most of the stadium has emptied.
What he is thinking. What he is feeling. That is all for only Neesham. If we're lucky, he'll let us know.
But, for a change, we know what he did - 27 off 11, with three sixes and a four.
Holy f***** shitballs, was it enough.
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. @afidelf