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ICC World Cup 2019: Nearly-men Neesham & de Grandhomme Embody New Zealand's Fighting Spirit

Adam Collins |July 16, 2019, 7:32 AM IST
ICC World Cup 2019: Nearly-men Neesham & de Grandhomme Embody New Zealand's Fighting Spirit

Sometimes, you have to write these pieces with no notes. Just hop onto the keyboard and type what you saw. At the end of this utterly exhilarating and entirely exhausting World Cup decider, that's what I'm going to try and do.

Specifically, to document the day of the marvelous Black Caps. So often forgotten, maligned or worse. They didn't lose this final as much as they tied it twice, suffering all the bad luck in the world. But could you tell?

When it was over, was Jimmy Neesham complaining? His first response when talking to the television interviewer was he also wanted to spend tonight celebrating England's success like he was Roger Federer some ten miles away at Wimbledon. This was not any reflection on his own competitive instincts but rather, a sense of perspective. The avuncular all-rounder immediately got that today evolved into something much more than who went up to collect the trophy. This was the greatest ODI ever played and only possible because New Zealand’s self-belief never wilts.

Take the day of Colin de Grandhomme. One colleague described his innings at the lunch break as resembling a member of the crowd having won in a raffle the chance to bat in an international match. Instead of a man who has hit some of the biggest sixes our game has seen in recent years, he looked like a newcomer. Not through effort – he just couldn’t middle the ball. By one calculation, 47 per cent of his shots in his tortured 28-ball stay were miscued. Damien Fleming, on commentary, replied: “are you sure that isn’t 4.7 per cent?”

The innings embodied New Zealand’s last ten overs, unable to ever get going. Their coach Gary Stead had talked about their reluctance on getting bogged down trying to play “perfect cricket” but when Mitch Santner left the final ball of the 50th over, they had scraped together 241 for eight in spite of their broadly shoddy performance with the blade.

Back to de Grandhomme. Imagine how his sandwiches went down after that, knowing that in front of a global TV audience tallying millions he had stunk the joint out? No time to mope, though – suddenly, he’s thrown the ball by Williamson to come on first change at the end of Trent Boult and Matt Henry’s brilliant early interrogation. “It’s as though they are trying to burgle a few overs out of him while nobody is watching,” observed Jarrod Kimber on radio. Maybe he was.

(Twitter/ cricket world cup) (Twitter/ cricket world cup)

But the son of a Zimbabwean tobacco farmer had other ideas. Mindful of his limited abilities with the ball – bowling at a pace that might not guarantee him the new ball in a club game despite being built like a professional wrestler - he did what he could. Bowl accurately. So much has been made during the last seven weeks of the genuine contest between bat and ball and here he was making one, with 120kph nude nuts. He wouldn’t get anywhere near this England team, yet here he was getting into Joe Root’s head – dotting him up so brilliantly it caused a brain explosion.

England's best chaser, snicked off chasing a wide one.

Fast forwarding to the end of his ten over spell – sent down straight from the Pavilion End – he came ever so close to ending Jos Buttler’s day as well in similar fashion. There are Sliding Doors moments aplenty for New Zealand to re-live if they wish (although, I don’t advise it) but this was perhaps the most significant, an outside edge landing no more than a metre in front of Lockie Ferguson at third man. If it carries, we are almost certainly having a different evening.

And how about the other bit-of-both type, Neesham? So grounded and self-aware, he wouldn’t pick himself in England’s best team if asked – although, after his efforts today, maybe he should. 18 months ago, he had enough of cricket. His output had diminished his position in the pecking order was gone and love for the game following. Yet here he was, dismissing Eoin Morgan, the rattled England captain with his very first ball.

If not for his death bowling, the Blackcaps would not have outlasted the West Indies or denied India in the semi-final. He did it again in the back ten at Lord’s.

In the Super Over, he popped Jofra Archer 30 rows back. These New Zealand all-rounders. They could only be Kiwis. Tonight, right now, that feels like the best possible compliment that anyone can be paid in this game. Though they exist as nearly-men for the second World Cup Final in a row, the likes of Neesham and de Grandhomme can look themselves in the mirror and see very much made men. They're why New Zealand didn't lose. Cold comfort, for sure. But sometimes that's all there is.

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1 India 3631 113
2 New Zealand 2547 111
3 South Africa 2917 108
4 England 3778 105
5 Australia 2640 98
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1 England 6745 125
2 India 7071 122
3 New Zealand 4837 112
4 Australia 5543 111
5 South Africa 5193 110
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1 Pakistan 7365 283
2 England 4253 266
3 South Africa 4196 262
4 India 8099 261
5 Australia 5471 261
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