From the verge of retiring from the sport, James Neesham has made a commendable comeback to not just win a place in the World Cup team but put in compelling performances in his best ever year in ODI cricket. On Saturday, Neesham crushed Afghanistan with a career best haul of five for 31 in the 2019 ICC World Cup match between New Zealand and Afghanistan.
While Neesham proved his mettle with the bat earlier in the year with some belligerent knocks against Sri Lanka, his bowling contributions had flown under the radar. He has 16 wickets in 11 ODIs this year and averages 19.06 while striking at a rate of 21.5. His strike rate in particular makes him a more than enticing option with the ball.
He has the fourth best bowling strike rate in ODIs this year (min 15 wickets) after Oshane Thomas, Pat Cummins and Yuzvendra Chahal. That he has been able to trump the likes of Trent Boult, Matt Henry and Lockie Ferguson in terms of strike rate is a massive feat for a bowler who is not even second change at times for his team.
This has also been Neesham's best year as a bowler. He has never taken more than 16 wickets in ODIs any year and has never averaged less than 20. In fact, in 2017, the last time he bowled in ODIs before this year, he averaged 72.75. Even in terms of economy, this is Neesham's best year. He had gone at above six runs an over in every year since his debut year in 2013. This year, the economy has gone back down to 5.3.
However, his improved bowling performances haven't affected his batting abilities. This is evident when analysing the best all-rounders in 2019 by calculating the average difference (batting - bowling averages) with a minimum filter of 10 wickets. Neesham comfortably tops the table with a whopping average difference of 38.18. No one else has an average difference greater than 10. With the bat, the Kiwi all-rounder has averaged 57.25 this year to go with his bowling average less than 20.