Cricket: All-rounder Jimmy Neesham reveals worst fears, as Blackcaps flee COVID-stricken Indian Premier League

Blackcaps cricket all-rounder Jimmy Neesham insists he would return to India to ply his trade, despite his desperate flight from the COVID-stricken subcontinent this week.

Neesham and national teammates arrived back in New Zealand late Saturday night, after coronavirus cases within supposedly secure bio-bubbles forced the cancellation of the lucrative Indian Premier League this week.

Players and staff were whisked from the charter flight directly to isolation in Auckland, where they will spend the next 14 days, before returning to their families.

But their ordeal struck home, when they learned Blackcaps wicketkeeper Tim Seifert had tested positive for COVID-19 and was forced to stay in India.

Speaking from quarantine, Neesham has revealed to Newshub that he wasn't meant to be on the flight back to New Zealand, but decided to take the first available plane to safety.

"To be honest, I wasn't expecting it to get called off," he says. "I think, when you've got so many teams in different bubbles, the expectation was that there would always be some cases at some point during the tournament.

"We thought teams might have to lock down and miss a couple of games, like we've seen in other organisations, like the NBA. The show must go on.

"The thing that was so shocking was how quickly it came up in so many different teams at the same time and we didn't really have an option in the end."

Neesham blames team travel for bio-security lapses that lead to the outbreak among teams.

"Even though we were flying on chartered planes, we have to go through customs, hand your details over to people, walk through terminals, so there were always going to be pinchpoints there.

"We obviously don't know yet exactly how teams were infiltrated, but... it's such a difficult prospect to keep everything perfect and when you've got so many guys that are close to each other, there are going to be social interactions after games.

"Once one team has it, you start looking back through your last week at who you talked to and who you shook hands with. It certainly gets your mind racing."

Seifert failed his pre-departure COVID test and faces a worrying stay - alone - back in India.

"We're obviously feeling for 'Seif' at the moment," Neesham tells Newshub. "Logistically, it's such a massive time for him, being back in India, pretty much by himself.

"He has to go through all the rigmarole that we went through with trying to get home all over again. He wouldn't have been lacklustre about it, he wouldn't have been casual about it, he would have been pretty careful like the rest of us.

"It was just one of those things - if it has your name on it, it's unavoidable."

Australian commentator Michael Hussey was another to test positive, after having breakfast with Blackcaps physio Tommy Simsek, who had treated players in his role with Chennai Super Kings.

The returning Blackcaps - those that weren't selected for the test squad heading to England - could still develop symptoms over coming days, while in quarantine.

"We're not out of the woods yet," says Neesham, who insists he would do it all over again, despite the risks.

While the IPL may resume later this year, the T20 World Cup is also scheduled for India in October/November, with the Blackcaps scheduled to tour there afterwards. 

"If it did start up again, I doubt the IPL would be in India again," says Neesham. "I think we've already seen plans for the T20 World Cup to move out of India later in the year and they're going to be ultra-cautious about that sort of thing.

"For me, I signed up for the IPL knowing what it might be like. I felt like it was an obligation - I made the commitment to go and never had any thoughts of pulling out individually before the tournament finished.

"Guys will have different opinions on that, but it's my job, I'm a professional and you have plenty of times you tour countries you're not that keen on going to, but it's about getting on the field and getting the job done.

"I would sign up again, especially once vaccinations start rolling out. I don't think anyone really predicted how quickly it would all come crashing down over there and how quickly we would be on the first plane out."

Neesham was supposed to wait and travel with the test players, but was persuaded to get out while the getting was good. Fast bowler Trent Boult chose to return home and visit family, before rejoining the test squad for the world championship final.

Flights were paid for by IPL franchises and the players will meet their own quarantine costs. New Zealand closed its borders to travellers from India earlier this month, but is now allowing citizens and immediate family back into the country.

Neesham denies the players jumped the queue for quarantine berths.

"Once we were on the plane, there was that sense of relief that we were going to get home. That was pretty much when the news that 'Seif' had tested positive came through, so there were mixed feelings.

"We're very happy to be home, very happy to be undertaking the isolation we're required to as New Zealanders and looking forward to the T20 Blast in England, which I leave for about a week after I get out." 

Watch the video for the full interview