There's a lot to like about Jimmy Neesham

5:10 am on 9 July 2019

By Stephan Shemilt

Eighteen months ago, Jimmy Neesham was trying to convince farmers to buy iPads.

New Zealand's James Neesham bowls during the 2019 Cricket World Cup group stage match between Afghanistan and New Zealand at The County Ground in Taunton.

Photo: AFP

Today, he is preparing to play in a World Cup semifinal.

And that is merely one part of the story of what might be cricket's most interesting man, who uses Twitter to air his views on President Trump and climate change, and has also sat a university exam during New Zealand's run to the last four.

The all-rounder was good enough to make centuries in each of his first two Tests. In this World Cup, he has a score of 97 not out and a five-wicket haul to his name. When the Black Caps won the match of the tournament so far against West Indies, it was Neesham who held his nerve to take the final wicket.

But around the Christmas of 2018, when he was out of both the New Zealand team and domestic side Otago, Neesham was, in his own words, "fed up" with cricket and looking for a proper job.

"I suppose it becomes the only option when you don't want to play cricket any more, but you've got a mortgage," he explained.

He took up a part-time post as a communications assistant with Halter, a company dealing in electronic collars for the remote herding of cows.

"I know about 500 times more about cows than I did a year ago.

"One of the things I really enjoyed about working was that how much you got out was pretty much equal to what you put in.

"In cricket, if you hit 10,000 balls in a week and you go out on a Saturday and nick off first ball, you feel like all your efforts are going down the drain."

Neesham, though, is a self-confessed "cricket tragic". As the game seeped back into his consciousness, he came to the conclusion he would not be comfortable with giving it away.

First with Otago, then Wellington, culminating with an international return, all with a fresh approach to the game.

James Neesham in action for the Wellington Firebirds.

Jimmy Neesham launches a shot for the Wellington Firebirds. Photo: Photosport

"I'd be amazed if 95% of international cricketers, if they were being honest, wouldn't say 'I've been fed up with cricket' at some point because it is a sport that is so steeped in failure day to day.

"These days, I try to disconnect the effort I put in from the results I expect out. I turn up at training and do what I feel is appropriate and once I walk out on the field, I accept what comes my way."

Still, time in the real world has left its mark on Neesham, who is "very slowly" making his way through a communications degree. Even playing in a World Cup has not disrupted the studying and an exam had to be sat remotely, moderated by the New Zealand team manager.

When he explains that the degree is being taken with half an eye on a post-cricket career as a TV or radio presenter, it's not hard to imagine the transition.

Talking among each other, journalists will often ask if an interviewee is a 'good talker' or not. Does the conversation flow, or is getting a decent answer as difficult as the Brexit negotiations?

Neesham is in the Premier League of talkers. Eloquent and verbose, he says he doesn't want to be pigeon-holed as someone who can only work in cricket. When Andrew Flintoff's transformation into a Top Gear presenter is mentioned, he clicks his fingers and says that would be "right up my street".

His charisma is evident on his Twitter feed, a page full of jokes at the expense of himself and his teammates, or sideways musing on everyday life.

For example: "Why is it called almond milk? It doesn't make sense. Call it what it is, nut juice."

He explained: "A lot of people fear social media and see the trouble you can get into on it.

"There are three options you have. One is not go on it at all, the second is put bland, generic statements out there and not pay attention to anything that goes on.

"The third is to treat it like a massive joke. I've got no problem with anyone who chooses the first two options, but I have a little bit of fun with the third one."

More Cricket World Cup headlines

But it's not all jokes from a man who says he still remembers where he was when he heard that Donald Trump had been elected.

"I think it's important for role models to be informed about what goes on around us," he said. "We've seen recently with Israel Folau how role models and social media can end up in a negative light.

"There's an argument about whether sportsmen should be role models, but the reality is that we are.

"So, as role models, it is important to keep abreast of what is going on and have at least a passing knowledge of global social issues like politics and climate change."

Still, Neesham is aware that a tendency to be outspoken can be at odds with an understated New Zealand team culture. He admits that it has "occasionally" got him into hot water.

An unusual social media profile, an awareness of the world beyond cricket and studying for a future career sets Neesham aside from the majority of sportsmen. That sits just fine with him.

"I'm really enjoying having cricket as a part of my life, but not 100% my life. It can be hard explaining that you're still 100% invested in succeeding in a World Cup, while also spending a bit of time studying in your room.

"I'll train the way I've trained, prepare the way I prepare and try to fit in the best I can. If that takes us to winning the World Cup, that's fantastic. If it doesn't, I'll be disappointed, but life will go on.

"But a passed exam and a winners' medal would be a fantastic double."