Jesse Ryder, born on August 6, 1984, is one of the most talented batsmen produced by New Zealand in recent times. For someone with an abundance of ability, he is yet to unleash his full potential at the highest level. Nishad Pai Vaidya traces Ryder’s tough journey.
Some players look natural at whatever they do. There is a certain amount of flair to their game and it makes them entertaining to watch. They are crowd-pullers and people would pay to watch them in full flow and dominate the opposition. Jesse Ryder, the New Zealand southpaw is one such player with an abundance of talent that has shown glimpses of brilliance at the highest level. Yet, his journey has been turbulent with off-field issues marring his progress. Nevertheless, there is hope for the future and international cricket awaits his return.
Born on August 6, 1984, in Wellington, Ryder had an unsettled childhood and took to cricket early. The natural flair was evident and his first representative game was for the Central Districts Under-17s in the year 2000. A couple of years down the line, he was representing New Zealand at the Under-19 World Cup alongside the likes of Ross Taylor, Neil Broom, Rob Nicol and Peter Borren. He made his senior debut for Central Districts in a List A match in December 2002 and followed it up with a maiden First-Class game in February the next year.
In his maiden season, he averaged over 60 in First-Class cricket to highlight his potential. However, his first brush with a higher level came in 2005 when he was picked for New Zealand A to play Sri Lanka. In his first two games for them he smashed 88 and 100. Overall, he was a success and was thought of as a future prospect for the senior side.
However, in the middle of 2007, he went to play for Ireland and threatened to leave New Zealand cricket as he was frustrated at not getting a break into the main team. He had been playing for their representative sides and had done quite well. His stint with Ireland did not last very long. In early 2008, his prayers were finally answered when he was called up for the One-Day Internationals (ODIs) and T20 Internationals against England at home.
International career and brushes with controversy
On T20 debut for New Zealand in February 2008, Ryder’s ability to hit the ball cleanly was evident. A few days down the line he made his ODI debut and in his second game he hammered 79 not out off 62 balls to take New Zealand home by 10 wickets. There was some talk about his weight, but with performances he had shown that it didn’t matter. However, there was a controversy in the offing and after the fifth ODI of the series, he hurt himself as he tried to enter a washroom in a bar. The injury was so severe that it ruled him out for almost three months, which robbed him off the chance of donning the Test cap.
In late 2008, he made a comeback during the tour of Bangladesh, where he finally made his Test debut. However, he had another drunken incident in early 2009 and that led to his axing from an ODI against West Indies. Ryder was looking for redemption — something that could prove to the world that he was here to stay. It was all going to change in a matter of months.
When India arrived in February 2009, Ryder was ready to make a mark. During the ODI series, he essayed impressive innings that highlighted his hard-hitting ability. He made it look nonchalant and the ease with which he smashed the ball stunned everyone. He had the hand-eye co-ordination to back it. Apart from that, his slow medium-pacers were a handful and could nag a batsman into throwing his wicket away. Contrary to what his physique may have suggested, he seemed to be quite quick on the field, with great reflexes to stop the ball from going past him. In an ODI against India at Christchurch, he hit a brilliant century which made the boundaries look even shorter. The Indians were given a run for their money as New Zealand almost challenged a 390-plus total.
During the Test series that followed, Ryder was in his elements again as he carted a maiden hundred in the first game. However, it was during the second Test that he showcased his potential. Batting first, New Zealand tottering at 23 for three when he took the attack to the Indians in the company of Taylor. His innings of 201 and Taylor’s 151 took New Zealand to a seemingly impossible 619 for nine. India had to follow on, but Gautam Gambhir’s heroics helped them hold on for a draw.
That made one feel that Ryder had arrived on the scene. But then, injuries came to the fore as they hampered his progress big time. He continued to score runs in his appearances, but missed quite a few games due to niggles in 2009-10. On the tough tour of India in late 2010, Ryder was one of the stars in the Test series as he hit a ton and two fifties. The innings of 103 came under extreme pressure and was similar to the double hundred he had scored against the same opposition. Batting first, India had amassed 487. Ryder walked in when New Zealand were 131 for three and smashed a century to rescue his side. New Zealand gave India a few scares, but the home side scripted another jail-break.
In the lead-up to the 2011 World Cup, Ryder hit 107 in an ODI against Pakistan to affirm his spot. He had a decent tournament in the sub-continent and the highlight was his innings of 83 which helped set a platform for an unexpected victory over the Proteas in the quarter-final.
Early in 2012, Ryder found himself in the eye of the storm again. In a T20 International against South Africa, he was blamed for a defeat. New Zealand needed 17 to win off four overs and Ryder was nearing his fifty. He took seven deliveries to move from 49 to 50 and ultimately the team lost by three runs. A few days down the line, he was found guilty of breaking the team rules as he went out with Doug Bracewell and had an argument at a hotel. The whole scenario was depressing and Ryder announced that he was taking an indefinite break from cricket. He did however travel to India for the Indian Premier League (IPL) 2012, playing for Pune Warriors India, with his manager and psychologist.
Ryder had a decent season in 2012-13 and there was talk about a possible comeback. Through all that, he brushed it aside by saying that he wasn’t ready for it. Then disaster struck. In March 2013, a few men attacked him outside a restaurant in Christchurch and left him with serious head injuries. That prevented him from turning up for the Delhi Daredevils at the IPL and he is yet to make a return to cricket at the time of writing. During the next season, he would be seen playing for Otago.
As Ryder turns 29, many would say that he should have played more than 18 Tests and 39 ODIs. Time is still on his side and he might yet make a splendid comeback. Given his talent, one cannot write him off and his latest experience will only make him stronger and more eager to return.
(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a Correspondent with CricketCountry and anchor for the site’s YouTube Channel. His Twitter handle is @nishad_44)