“Holy f*#£ing shitballs, this is the best day of my life.”
March 21, 2015
Jimmy Neesham could be forgiven the invectives and this overwhelming emotional surge. Perched on the grass banks of Auckland’s Eden Park with school friends and cans of beer, he had just witnessed a seminal moment in New Zealand’s cricketing history.
His teammate Grant Elliot had hit a humongous six to take the Black Caps into their first ever World Cup final. However, there was a catch. A small detail made this a surreal moment for Neesham. Few months back, it was Elliot who had replaced him in the 2015 World Cup squad.
A year before, the all-rounder had kick-started his international career with a bang — slamming back-to-back Test centuries against India and West Indies respectively. Along the way, a niggling shoulder injury and the consequent loss of form had seen him lose out to Elliot.
Neesham didn’t harbour resentment. “I was sitting on the grass banks, guzzling beer when Elliot hit that winning shot. There was a sense of elation, which resulted in that swearing tweet. I was not this bitter guy who got binned months before the World Cup,” he puts it succinctly.
His brief walk into the cricketing wilderness coincided with his sensational entry into social media, where he showcased humour and acerbic wit in equal measure. His Twitter feeds range from Day/Night Test matches to his former team-mate Daniel Vettori’s quirky hairstyle. In a crowd of contemporary uber-star cricketers who routinely dish out cliched tweets and boring responses, @jimmyneesh stands out.
Unlike most teams, New Zealand usually come into big-ticket ICC tournaments without the baggage of expectations. In that sense, this has liberated them from the needless pressures, transforming them into a nonchalant bunch that’s more than just the sum of their parts.
Despite his travails with form and fitness over the last four years, Neesham inherently mirrors this team’s insouciance. After spending considerable time away from the national reckoning, the 28-year-old has made a resounding comeback early this year, claiming his spot for the showpiece event as a seam-bowling all-rounder this time.
Off the field, Neesham continued to be a rage, tweeting on a wide range of top trending global issues — from US gun laws and global warming to taking regular digs at Donald Trump. With time, he was rechristened the “140-character don”
“If Kanpur roads were a person, they’d be Donald Trump.”
September 27, 2016
Neesham did not quite set the stage on fire during New Zealand’s tour of India in 2016. Just before that series, he would pick a rib injury during practice that relegated him to the sidelines for the first two Tests. This had come on the back of a stress fracture, which had kept him out of action for more than six months. Neesham featured in the third and final Test at Indore, scoring 71 in both the innings and went wicket-less. He didn’t fare any better in the ODIs, accruing just 76 runs from four matches. But even the lacklustre tour didn’t leave him in low spirits. During the first Test at Green Park, which he sat out due to an injury, Neesham took aim at two low-hanging fruits — the then Republican presidential nominee and Kanpur roads — but with a stone of clever juxtaposition.
Neesham’s propensity to vent his opinions in an unequivocal manner is well known. This is a trait that Bruce Edgar, former New Zealand Test opener and national selector, who is currently serving as his coach with the Wellington Firebirds, attests to. “He has always been this intelligent, opinionated guy and someone who loves to interact and share his thoughts with people. He took to Twitter when he was down in the dumps as a cricketer. I don’t know if it was a welcome distraction for him from the game, but I believe it has helped him raise his profile,” Edgar told The Indian Express.
Terming social media as a liberating experience, the Auckland native believed that the reason why sportsmen have struggled with this medium was because they used it either for promotion or viewed it as an extension of their mundane press conferences.
In an exhaustive podcast interview titled: “It’s all an elaborate ruse”, Neesham quipped: “I think a lot of sportspersons view Twitter as a platform similar to that of press conferences. From that point of view, if you are going to speak just like how you would in a press conference then what’s the point of being on social media? The great thing about this medium is that you know everyone is human; they do the same things and think along similar lines. To that effect, it’s a very liberating experience,” before adding: “A lot of people also use social media as a tool for promotion. Again, what’s the point of it? Most of these guys are trained to speak in a certain way and it ends up being a sterile environment where nothing much is really said.”
His views find resonance with Virat Kohli, the most followed active cricketer on social media. Last year, during the launch of a mobile app, when a user expressed scepticism over the quality of the current Indian batsmen, Kohli suggested that he move to another country. The Indian captain’s comments triggered an instant outrage, following which he tried to douse the situation by suggesting: “I guess trolling isn’t for me guys.”
Unlike Kohli, Neesham shuts down vicious trolls with his stinging ripostes. He is also quick to alleviate fears and assure admirers that even national duty can’t make him go AWOL. When a particular user welcomed Neesham back into the New Zealand team with this tweet: @JimmyNeesh I’m thrilled for your @BLACKCAPS recall and all, but I’m a bit concerned we won’t see you on Twitter so much. #sayitaintso, it prompted a stunning counter-attack from Neesham. “Thanks mate. I’ll buy the in flight wifi and share deranged comments in transit just for you.”
Kohli’s Twitter timeline illustrates Neesham’s point further. It’s a sanitised world comprising product launches and photographs of the Indian team’s touchdown in London for their upcoming World Cup campaign. It’s pretty banal, bereft of the chirpy banter that Neesham regularly indulges in with his followers. Kohli has crazy fan following, but on the face of it, he seems to be firefighting with this medium on most occasions, almost to the point of being wary, unlike Neesham who has sussed it with aplomb.
“the greatest ass of our generation. And Kim Kardashian.”
May 30, 2018
In May 2018, Donald Trump had posted a photo of him with reality television star Kim Kardashian West after the latter successfully pushed for criminal justice and prison reforms in the United States. Neesham posted the photograph with this outlandish caption. It evoked 393 retweets and 1,500 ‘hearts’ were touched on his followers’ touchscreens.
In the midst of these platitudes came this blistering attack: “You need to improve your bowling and batting instead of tweeting about things that doesn’t concern NZ.” Neesham, not one to pull punches, came back with this repartee: “Thanks for the tip, anonymous twitter nobody.” In another instance, someone had tweeted him: “So you’re basically an ugly David Beckham. I’d still take that as a compliment.” To which he came up with this terse matter-of-fact reply: “Mate, I have been called pretty worse.” In recent times, Neesham has taken on trolls with gusto, elevating it into an intricate, higher art form. He had his reasons for being successful against them.
“I think a lot of people take themselves way too seriously on social media. You cannot think too much of yourself because the general public can sense that and they will try to bring you down. You have to be able to laugh at yourself and one needs to understand that you’re going to have bad days,” he explained in the podcast interview, before offering: “There are a lot of people out there who have not done much for themselves and love nothing more than just bringing someone else down. Once you realise that these trolls mean absolutely nothing to you, and then I suppose your own tweets can take that attitude as well.”
Such has been his incredible counter-attack that one of his followers even suggested that he open a troll page. Neesham, however, dissed the idea and termed trolling as the basest form of humour.
“HEY @JimmyNeesh your thoughts on yesterday’s Mankading?”
“My thoughts are the following: It was only this morning for me. Aren’t time zones cool.”
March 26, 2019.
There’s a loyal section of followers on board just for Neesham’s funny, outlandish tweets on a range of issues. When R Ashwin ‘mankaded’ Jos Buttler, everyone and their dog had an opinion. But those looking for their Neesham fix kept bugging the Kiwi and constantly refreshed his feed, waiting his hot take. “Haven’t seen @JimmyNeesh tweet on the Ashwin-Buttler incident yet” read a comment, to which Neesham replied: “That’s because I haven’t.” Six hours passed, but the requests didn’t die down. “HEY @JimmyNeesh your thoughts on yesterday’s Mankading?” asked another, and Neesham left it alone again. “My thoughts are the following: It was only this morning for me. Aren’t time zones cool.”
There are no needless pokes, when Neesham tweets, it’s mostly right off the middle. His self-deprecating, clued-in wit has made him a must-follow account for fans of the sport. There are also the occasional rogues in the mix. Non-cricket fans who clicked ‘follow’ after a particular tweet that gained traction and forgot, or sly trolls out to remind Neesham of his on-off international career.
Neesham, spent close to 18 months out of the national team. Such has been his struggles with both form and fitness that at one point, he had even contemplated retirement. However, a chat with Heath Mills, the players’ association chief, helped him turn a corner. “He told me to go home, have a couple of weeks off, not pick up a cricket bat and see how I felt in a fortnight or so and we’d gradually talk about getting back into the game again,” he explained.
In the interim, Neesham shifted from Otago to Wellington, under the watchful gaze of Edgar. If anything, the new environment rekindled his verve for the game. “With the Wellington Firebirds, my focus was to help Neesham enjoy his game again and see to it that he was having fun, which I don’t think he was since 2014,” Edgar said of Neesham. His stint with the Firebirds put him back in the national reckoning, and when the Sri Lankans toured New Zealand earlier this year, Neesham found himself back in the cauldron again. He was irresistible with the bat against the Lankans, scoring 204 runs from five innings, striking it at a scarcely believable 182.14. He was equally handy with the ball, claiming six scalps.
Looking back, Neesham admits that he was never certain he would make the eventual cut. “Anyone who spends 18 months out of the national team and comes back and says I always believed I’d make it back is either a liar or an idiot,” he said in an interview to Radio Sport Breakfast. Going by his recent form, Neesham is sure to breathe life into this team. In England, even if he lets his bat do the talking, you can be assured of one thing: his keyboard will not remain just a mute spectator.