By Niall Anderson in Taunton

When Black Caps captain Kane Williamson handed Jimmy Neesham the ball in the 11th over, with Afghanistan rattling along at 61-0, it seemed a risky decision.

Neesham had looked out of sorts in a brief spell against Bangladesh, leaking 24 runs from two overs. He had taken a wicket against Sri Lanka, but went at seven runs an over, and his ODI economy rate going into the game – 6.37 – painted the portrait of a bowler who could struggle against an Afghanistan opening duo pelting the ball to all corners of the Taunton ground.

Five balls later, he had a wicket. After three overs, he had three. By the time his spell was over – his first 10-over stint in ODI cricket since December 2014 – Afghanistan instead were in tatters at 127-6; Neesham having taken five of those wickets in a career-best performance of 5-31.


Williamson's risk turned out to be a masterstroke, but it was Neesham's recently-found perspective on cricket – and, obviously, his talents with the ball - which were largely to thank.

Jimmy Neesham of New Zealand celebrates taking the wicket of Najibullah Zadran of Afghanistan. Photo / Getty
Jimmy Neesham of New Zealand celebrates taking the wicket of Najibullah Zadran of Afghanistan. Photo / Getty

A five-wicket bag at a Cricket World Cup would be special for any bowler, but for Neesham, it could perhaps hold extra significance, given how unlikely such a performance looked even 18 months ago, when he was struggling to get selected in domestic cricket.

Neesham believes overcoming that tough period is partly why he was able to put aside his poor return with the ball against Bangladesh, and bounce back with a man of the match performance on the world's biggest stage.

"I would have thought a bit more about the Bangladesh game in my first stint in the team, I probably would have let that occupy my mindspace for an extended period of time, but I just walked off the other day and thought 'Well, you get a bit of tap every now and again, what's the worst that can happen?'," said Neesham.

"It just gives you a bit of perspective really, you go through Under-19 World Cups, go to domestic cricket and then get elevated straight to international cricket and you don't really get a whole lot of perspective on failure. I think when you succeed for that long in a row, it becomes the be all and end all. You realise once you're playing international cricket, other guys are allowed to have good days, and sometimes you get a bit of tap, and sometimes you give someone else a tapping up."

He definitely gave Afghanistan a tapping up today, removing their top order batsmen with some superb seam bowling, having made a slight tweak to his approach after the Bangladesh encounter.

"I had a bit of a think about how I was approaching my bowling and what I was trying to do with the ball, and I probably went back a little bit to my bread and butter, which is not trying to swing it too much, not try to get much movement in the air – just looking to bowl those three-quarter seamers and get a little bit of bounce."

It worked a charm, and validated Williamson's faith in his all-rounder. Williamson explained post-game why he handed Neesham the ball earlier than normal.


"It was a different surface and perhaps suited him a little bit more - someone that runs in hits the wicket hard.

"Where we've had that pace and bounce, someone like Jimmy, when he is bowling well, he can get very good pace out of the surface. And today was one of those days."

A dream day, if you ask Neesham, but that dream could soon evolve into something much more tangible for the three-from-three Black Caps.

"Coming out today and putting in a man of the match performance at the World Cup is obviously what dreams are made of growing up.

"But we've got goals we want to achieve as a unit - it'd to be fantastic to progress through the group stages, and make it a real fairytale."

The Alternative Commentary Collective are podcasting their way through the World Cup. Known for their unconventional sports analysis and off-kilter banter, the ACC have come to ask the tough questions. Here's the latest episode of 'The Agenda':