It was not decided by the barest of margins perhaps, but the drama was incredible, the tension was high and the difference between the two sides minimal in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday, as it was on that evening at Lord’s in July 2019. This time around, with an entire over to spare and no extra time needed, New Zealand had sealed the deal against England. Delight for Black Caps. Heartbreak for Eoin Morgan’s men.
In the immediate aftermath, two photos quickly captured all the attention. The first, was the winning moment in the New Zealand dugout. The live broadcast showed scenes of joy, with even Kane Williamson managing to break into a smile, delayed as it was, standing up and applauding the efforts. In the background, we could see Jimmy Neesham slowly getting up from his chair and given a hug from someone behind him.
But, as is often the case, a photograph of that moment, frozen in time, gave a better picture of what had transpired. While nearly everyone erupted in joy, Williamson was still seated even while at least carrying a sense of relief but for Neesham, it was different. A blank stare into the distance.
A few minutes later, even after the presentations and post-match press conferences are done, a Wisden reporter would tell us Neesham was still there, seated.
More than most, Neesham felt the pinch on that evening at Lord’s two years back. He had taken three wickets in regular time that played a part in forcing the Super Over, he had hit a six off Jofra Archer in the Super Over to give New Zealand hope... and then saw it taken away from him and his team with one throw from the deep by Jason Roy and a brilliant piece of glovework from Jos Buttler. “Kids, don’t take up sport. Take up baking or something. Die at 60 really fat and happy,” he tweeted famously after that match.
So, when he got out after a truly sensational and arguably match-changing 11-ball 27 in the T20 World Cup semifinal against England, perhaps Neesham thought he and his side will fall short again. Perhaps there was another heartbreak in store... or even if it wasn’t, he wouldn’t be there at the end to completely, utterly, undoubtedly ensure New Zealand crossed the finish line.
“Yeah, we’re devastated,” England’s Eoin Morgan (taking on the mantle of being gracious in defeat from Williamson) said after the match. “To be on the wrong side of a close game is not easy to take. I thought we fought unbelievably well today on a wicket that didn’t necessarily suit our batting, but we managed to post in and around a par score. We were brilliant with the ball.”
“We were right in the game probably until Jimmy Neesham came to the wicket, if not ahead of the game. I think throughout those innings everybody struggled to clear the ropes on both sides, and I think that was just the nature of the pitch.
“So yeah, you have to take your hat off to him. He played really well.”
We couldn’t quite hear what Neesham had to say after the win, because he is not the captain, neither was he the player of the match or the one nominated to speak in the press conference (you couldn’t really begrudge Daryl Mitchell getting the nod because his was a story worth celebrating too, for overcoming the struggles from earlier in the night and then shining bright at the end).
But two hours later after the photo of him still sitting in the chair was shared, Neesham tweeted: “Job finished? I don’t think so.” The next thing he did was to retweet a three-year-old tweet showing a clip of Kobe Bryant.
Just like that Neesham, Mitchell and, really, a collection of individuals punching above their weight, have reached the business end of another ICC event. ODI World Cup final, World Test Championship final... and now the T20 World Cup final. But they know there is another step to take.
“Look, we’re a bunch of Kiwis. There’s only five million of us, so we’re obviously very proud to be representing our country,” Mitchell said after the match. “Obviously we’ve had some success in the last few years. But we’re going to enjoy the win tonight, make sure that obviously we celebrate that, but then we move on pretty quickly. We know that we have a final on Sunday, and whoever we’re taking on should be good fun. We’ll give it everything we’ve got, but at the end of the day there’s certain things you can’t control, so we’ll see what happens.”
Because ultimately, it is worth remembering what slipped out of New Zealand’s grasp on that Sunday evening at Lord’s. It was not the solitary defeat against England that the New Zealanders care about. It was the defeat in the World Cup final. It was the title of world champions that eluded them, not a win against England. The latter might have been taken care of in Abu Dhabi this time around, but perhaps moving on from that heartbreak will only truly be possible if they can win on Sunday in Dubai. A defeat still wouldn’t take away from the Black Caps’ sensational achievements in the last two years but a win will provide them the closure they seek.
Well, at least for Neesham.