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From retirement thoughts to World Cup spot, NZ's Neesham on the up and up

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By Reuters
From retirement thoughts to World Cup spot, NZ's Neesham on the up and up
FILE PHOTO: New Zealand's James Neesham makes a run during their first ODI cricket match against South Africa in Centurion, August 19, 2015. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko   -   Copyright  Siphiwe Sibeko(Reuters)

WELLINGTON (Reuters) – Less than 18 months ago, New Zealand all-rounder Jimmy Neesham had become so disaffected with cricket he would open the curtains on match day and hope it was raining.

A timely chat with Heath Mills, the head of the New Zealand players’ union, however, ended his thoughts about retirement and ultimately propelled him back into the national side and then on Wednesday into the country’s World Cup squad.

“Opening the shades and hoping it was raining is not the ideal way to begin a day of cricket,” Neesham told reporters on Thursday, the day after he was named in the squad for the May 30-July 14 tournament in England. “I think I needed to just have a full overhaul in the way I was approaching the game.

“I actually called Heath Mills 18 months ago and told him I was going to retire. He convinced me to take a little break.

“Luckily I took his advice … and obviously since then it’s been on the up and up.”

With his ability to bat in the top order and bowl fast-medium pace, Neesham was once considered to be the answer to New Zealand’s search for an all-rounder when he made the side in late 2012.

The early stages of his career were hampered by injury, however, and in 2017 a decline with the ball saw him dropped from the national side.

The following year he was removed from the central contracts list, with the message from selector Gavin Larsen that he needed to “demand our attention again”.

The power-hitting left-hander tried to respond by pushing himself to score more runs, but only piled more pressure on himself.

“I wanted to dominate and score hundreds every game and once that starts going in a downward spiral and you’re not going well, you put more pressure on yourself,” he said.

“When I was the most driven, I played my worst. Trying too hard doesn’t seem to help as a cricketer.

“Once I got over those feelings and began to enjoy myself again then that’s when things started to get better.”

Part of that process involved leaving Otago, where he had spent seven years, and move to Wellington where coach Bruce Edgar, captain Michael Bracewell and former New Zealand pace bowler Hamish Bennett all helped him regain his confidence.

Since being recalled to the national side in January, the 28-year-old has played eight one-day internationals in his comeback and scored 204 runs at an average of 68, while taking 10 wickets at 22.90, enough to convince selectors he should be on the plane for England.

“It was a long road back, but once I got back to scoring runs and taking wickets I knew I wasn’t too far away if I put a good couple of months together,” he added.

“But to get the call, it’s pretty surreal.”

(Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Peter Rutherford)