Belligerent, boisterous, bludgeoning, brutal...    Getty Images
Belligerent, boisterous, bludgeoning, brutal… Getty Images

Jesse Ryder, born August 6, 1984, possesses enough talent to have scaled heights matched by few from New Zealand. Instead, he chose to become the brash rebel who hardly did justice to his immense potential. Known for one breathtaking act after another on field and a brazen restlessness off it, Ryder is almost a character from a bygone era, who refuses to be bogged down by bowlers or logic. Abhishek Mukherjee celebrates a fascinating character.

Ashes 2015. The rampant Australians were on the move. A year-and-a-half back they had retained The Ashes with a 5-0 whitewash that crushed the Englishmen psychologically. They had lifted yet another World Cup. In their first tour match they had dished out a 255-run defeat to Kent. They left Essex to bat out almost a full day. Essex were two batsmen short (including Tom Westley, who had scored 144 in the first innings).

Ravi Bopara promoted Jesse Ryder to open. Mitchell Starc bowled a quiet over to Jaik Mickleburgh. Then Josh Hazlewood, the youngster who has managed to impress the cricket fraternity over the past year, ran in.

Essex had another option to go for an impossible 370. Ryder, being Ryder, went for it: the over read dot, 4, 4, 6, 4, 4 (off a no-ball), and 4. Another boundary followed off the next ball he faced. Ryder was batting on an 8-ball 30. They were two batsmen short, but Ryder thought the chase was on.

Indeed, when he went for a wild slog off Starc and was bowled, he had scored a 19-ball 37. This was a match played in whites, but Essex went for it: they were bowled out for 199 but in the 49th over. They did not bat to save the match. The approach sounds foolish, almost ridiculous, but the crowd refused to budge from their seats as long as it lasted.

In other words, Essex adopted a Jesse Ryder approach, for that is what Ryder is, and has always been, about: brutal, breathtaking, often not making sense but when he does, few bowlers stand with a chance.

Ryder is not on his way to an international comeback anytime soon. It is not that he is particularly willing. As late as in November 2014 he withdrew despite being selected for the New Zealand A s tour to UAE citing personal reasons.

Now on the wrong side of 30, time is running out quickly for him. He has had disciplinary issues. Despite being a deceptively brilliant fielder, his fitness is not of the high standards set by New Zealand fielders over decades. And New Zealand, under Brendon McCullum, is an outfit so strong that it will be difficult for him to find a way back.

He keeps on blasting bowlers at domestic level, but that hardly does justice to his immense talent. His First-Class average hovers around 45. Less talented men average more, but that does not count. Had raw talent, and not runs, been the parameter to determine average, Ryder s would have been at least 20 points higher, for seldom has a cricketer as prodigious taken field.

The Test numbers read 1,269 runs at 41 from 18 outings. He averages 33 in One-Day Internationals (ODIs) with a strike rate of 95. His T20 International strike rate is 128. Unfortunately, a tally of 88 international matches across formats over six years tells the story: Ryder will forever remain another what-could-have-been of the sport.

Let it not be forgotten that Ryder bowls, and does it rather well when given a chance (his First-Class bowling average reads 28 in a batsman-dominated era). He had a 10-wicket haul against Glamorgan less than a month ago, and had another last year.

Fitness, of course, has been a perpetual issue. Before Ryder made his Test debut, Adam Parore told New Zealand Herald: He s [Ryder] too fat. He s in no fit state to play for New Zealand and if I was still in the national side, I wouldn’t want him in my dressing room. He claims to have lost 10 kg, in which case you can only wonder what shape he was in before that.

Ryder defied all that by emerging as an outstanding gully fielder. The catches are more instinctive than athletic, but when he senses a catch, he astonishes the world with his flexibility. His reflexes more than make up for his lack of fitness.

He is not the swiftest of runners, which means one does not associate him amazing picks up and throws. But then, why do you need to run when you can do these?

But it eventually comes down to batting, for the most vivid Jesse Ryder images revolve around batting. A chunky left-hander, Ryder gives the ball a good thump, wrote Steven Lynch in Wisden. It was an understatement.

Ryder, to take a word out of the Generation-Z vocabulary, owns the area between mid-on and long-leg: pitch up and he flicks it anywhere he wants to (often over the fence); bowl length, and he flicks past mid-wicket anyway, off the hip; bounce him, and he will hook you; if you make it lift from a length, the short-arm pull will be unleashed; and then, there are the drives, lofted or otherwise, past wide mid-on.

It is not that his off-side strokeplay is any less dazzling. The ferocious cuts and drives and punches can bring the crowd into frenzied rapture, for they invariably pierce the field with the uncanny precision and are timed so well that chasing the ball becomes the most futile of exercises.

There are also the deft touches on either side of the wicket strokes that make you feel that batting is the easiest craft of them all. Runs are plundered at will, and then, suddenly, out of nowhere, he gets into auto-destruction mode, unleashes the most ridiculous shot imaginable and gets out.

The signature shot, of course, is the lofted flick dispatched anywhere between the area from mid-wicket to square-leg with the ease of swatting a fly. It beats the infield, often the boundary, and sometimes even the ground to land in the car park as Ian Smith found out to his own peril while on air.

There was a reason that Richard Hadlee, then New Zealand Cricket Selection Manager, ignored Parore s comment and made sure Ryder got his Test cap, for Hadlee saw what the world would see years later: Jesse has the potential to provide an explosive start alongside Brendon McCullum at the top of the innings in both forms of the game. Truer words have seldom been spoken.

The Jesse Ryder story: dazzling strokeplay at the pitch and darkness off it    Getty Images
The Jesse Ryder story: dazzling strokeplay at the pitch and darkness off it Getty Images

Rebel streak and badness

Despite winning many a fan s heart across the world, Ryder is not the most popular cricketer among administrators and they can hardly be blamed, for he has been one of the most difficult cricketers to manage. His life, especially off the field, has involved arguments and brawls one of which led to an injury that could have ended his career and more.

Let us delve a bit into Ryder s past. His parents Peter and Heather got divorced, and Jesse s custody went to his father. Peter Ryder was a club cricketer, and father and son Ryder moved to Napier when Jesse was still young.

It was not the most ideal of childhoods. As Ryder would himself recall in an interview with stuff.co.nz, I didn t really have the best upbringing in Napier because my old man was always going out and coming in late. My mate and I would just stay at home on our own at least two or three times a week just playing PlayStation or backyard cricket. My dad would turn up in the early hours of the morning.

Then came that day. Jesse s father dropped him at a friend s. He had to go to Australia, but he promised to return in a week. He has not done so yet, at least as per Jesse s knowledge. Jesse was 14. Jesse admits that the incident led to the rebel streak and badness in him.

Peter Ryder has contacted his son since the latter attained fame. One of the chats even involved Peter asking for a hundred bucks a request Jesse turned down. Heather, meanwhile, has remarried. Jesse meets her twice a year.

Coming back to Jesse, things started to go wrong roughly after his father abandoned him. Bouncing around friends places and sleeping on their couches, he [Ryder] started partying… It was also the time his drinking and sport began to intersect, wrote Aaron Lawton in stuff.co.nz.

However, cricket instilled some sense of purpose into him. He was also immensely popular wherever he went, including dressing-rooms (Daniel Vettori once said Ryder was the most popular New Zealand cricketer he has seen), and his incredible collection of music made him the automatic choice for DJ in the dressing-room. He became more patient and disciplined.

Then, there was cricket

It all started with indoor cricket. By 16 Ryder was playing for Central Districts Under-17. His first three recorded innings were 58, 50, and 44. At Under-19 level (he was 17 at this stage) he claimed 5 for 6 against Northern Districts.

The big call-up came in International Academy Challenge 2002 at Townsville. Selected for New Zealand Academy, an 18-year-old Ryder slammed 181 against Australian Academy. Selection for Under-19 World Cup was inevitable: Ryder scored 178 at 36 in the tournament at a strike rate of 108.

Few sights in cricket are better than Ryder in his pomp    Getty Images
Few sights in cricket are better than Ryder in his pomp Getty Images

He made his First-Class debut later that year. There was a 114 not out against Canterbury at Napier against Chris Martin and Paul Wiseman: his average soared to 61, and he finished at the top of Central Districts averages. Two seasons later he made a move to Wellington.

The first daddy hundred came in 2004-05 against Central Districts, where he amassed 236. In the next match against Otago he slammed 81 before routing the opposition with 4 for 23. He made it to New Zealand A, and announced his arrival with a 91-ball 100 against Sri Lanka Cricket XI at Colombo.

Fury!

By this time he started to evolve into a batting all-rounder, but was disappointed by the New Zealand selectors reluctance to pick him. He refused to appear for New Zealand A and left for England: he had earned a contract for Ireland for 1,000 a match. Not surprisingly, he missed a flight, did not turn up at The Oval, and the contract was terminated.

Meanwhile, Ryder managed to acquire a contract for New Brighton in the Liverpool and District Cricket Competition. He slammed 1,047 runs at 50 and took 79 wickets at 11, topping both charts for his side.

Ryder was, by this time, sick of playing for New Zealand A , as he told Sunday Times. He added: I know I am only young. But I have had two very good New Zealand A tours and stuff like that but I don t even get a chance. I’ve been doing a job on the field. So I can’t see why they didn’t give me a go.

Thanks to his stint with club cricket in England, Ryder considered being a regular in County Championship. Going a step further, he even contemplated playing for England (both his grandfathers were from England) if New Zealand did not select him.

Finally, a break

His medium-paced bowling with a hint of swing made him more than handy in New Zealand conditions. The selectors decided to give him a go. The international call-up came in a T20I against England in 2007-08, and his ODI debut, in the same series at home.

It was in his second ODI at Hamilton that Ryder made the first major impact. Stephen Fleming sent Ryder to open after England were skittled out for 158. The target was achieved in 18.1 overs without the loss of a wicket: McCullum (80 off 47) was the faster of the two, but young Ryder (79 off 62) was not slow either.

Ryder brought up his fifty with a humongous six that cleared the stands over mid-wicket; on either side of the six was a boundary, past point. He hit two sixes, both over mid-wicket; and 7 of his 11 boundaries came in the area between square-leg and long-leg. Bowlers across the world took notice.

An instant ban

After the Christchurch injury, serving a ban    Getty Images
After the Christchurch injury, serving a ban Getty Images

Three days after the ODI series against England ended, Ryder got involved in a bar brawl at 5.30 AM. He injured his right hand and had to be rushed to Emergency Care Hospital, where he verbally abused the medical staff (why?), and was banned for three months. He was made to apologise. He also had to compensate the bar owner. He missed out on a Test cap, at least for some time.

The Test debut came against Bangladesh. He reached 91, tried to play that characteristic jab past fine-leg off Abdur Razzak, and was caught at backward square-leg. Two months later, at Dunedin, he reached 89, pulled Daren Powell to square-leg, and walked out nonchalantly. The maiden Test hundred would have to wait.

The Indian summer

The Indians toured New Zealand in 2008-09, and it was this series that catapulted Ryder to the next level. Nobody gave New Zealand a chance in the Christchurch ODI after India piled up 392 for 4, but Ryder thought otherwise: he tore into the Indian attack, smashing an 80-ball 105 before chipping one off Harbhajan Singh almost flat-batted to long-off.

Then came the Tests. In an inspired phase of hostile fast bowling, Zaheer Khan, Ishant Sharma, and Munaf Patel reduced the hosts to 60 for 6. The Indians had done their homework: Ryder was given no room on leg-stump, but the cover-drives and square-drives flowed. He reached 102 before mistiming a pull to mid-on. Though Vettori scored a hundred as well, Sachin Tendulkar s 160 and Harbhajan s 6 for 63 ensured a win.

Things were no better when he came out at Napier. The score read 23 for 3. Ryder launched a furious onslaught on the Indians with Ross Taylor for company. Once again the Indians refused to let him free his arms outside leg; and once again Ryder counterattacked with punches and drives to the off.

The first hundred came off 147 balls. The second took 111. He waited patiently, but whenever there was a slight lapse in line, the ball raced to the leg-side fence with a casual flick of the wand bat or an oh-so-easy pull. It was as spectacular a double-hundred as any. India followed-on (Ryder got rid of Rahul Dravid), but saved the Test and clinched the series thanks to Gautam Gambhir s 643-minute vigil.

At this stage Ryder s Test average read 64. In ODIs, it was 40, but the strike rate was 91. He was destined for greatness. If only…

He failed in the Australia tour of 2007-08, but more significantly, he picked up a mystery illness, leading to him being quarantined. It involved diarrhoea and fever, he had to be rehydrated, but fortunately he recovered.

Ryder continued to play consistently from 2008 to 2010, but the innings were mostly restricted to cameos, and he seldom bowled. In 2009 he was named a New Zealand Cricket Almanac Player of the Year.

In the same year ran into trouble in a Champions Trophy match against Sri Lanka at New Wanderers: he edged one off Nuwan Kulasekara and fell for a 58-ball 74, left the ground fuming, and smashed a chair on his return to the pavilion. He was fined 15 per cent of his match fee. He also abused team manager Dave Currie. The issue got sorted out.

He picked out India again for his third Test hundred: New Zealand were 137 for 4 after India put up 487 at Motera, but Ryder (103) and debutant Kane Williamson (131) put up 194 to take New Zealand to safety.

A bad patch followed, and Ryder ran into tussles with John Wright, then New Zealand coach. Soon after that Ryder decided to take a sabbatical from cricket for a deeply stressful and emotional time.

Against Central District at Napier he pulled off one of his greatest performances. The hosts must have felt confident when Wellington were reduced to 184 for 6, but Ryder just kept hitting till he was left stranded on 113-ball 117.

Such unadulterated joy!    Getty Images
Such unadulterated joy! Getty Images

Wellington were set 342, and at 112 for 4 Central Districts must have sniffed an opportunity. But Ryder took them on: this time the effort amounted to a 136-ball 174 (Wellington scored 245 during his stay). Wellington won by 5 wickets. It seemed a matter of time when he would barge into the side again.

March 28, 2013

Wellington had lost at Christchurch in a Ford Trophy match. Ryder had fallen for a golden duck. He was assaulted by a group outside Aikman s Bar and in the nearby McDonald s car-park, Merivale at 12.30 AM. By 12:44 he was in ambulance, on his way to the hospital.

In a report released by New Zealand Police, Detective Senior Sergeant Archer said: As Jesse was leaving the premises an altercation took place in the outdoor courtyard and on the footpath outside Aikman s, involving Jesse and a group of at least two other males. This was a relatively brief incident and was over quite quickly. Following that incident Ryder, accompanied by two other people, walked across the road towards McDonald s, where his Wellington team-mates had earlier gone to purchase food. We believe one or two people from the group involved in the initial altercation have followed Ryder across the road, and a second incident took place at the entrance to the McDonalds car-park, involving one of the males from the earlier group. In that incident it appears that Jesse has been the victim of a serious assault and has suffered significant head injuries.

AFP reported that Ryder was punched and kicked multiple times and was left shaking, vomiting and covered in blood. His mother rushed to the hospital, as did his girlfriend.

New Zealand rapper Scribe (real name: Malo Luafutu) came out with the tweet I d like to know what Jesse Ryder did or said. Cantabrians don’t beat people up for no reason #Crusader. Scribe was thrashed across the internet, and Ryder responded in characteristic style:

 

As Ryder went into a coma, police started tracking the culprits down. The names were not disclosed at that time. Meanwhile, a man called Jordan Mason posted a video of the incident on YouTube (he had apparently recorded it on his cell-phone but had not come out with the evidence when the investigation started). He was charged with breaching a suppression order and was sentenced to two months community detention and 140 hours community work.

Ryder recovered on March 30 with no memory of the coma. “He remembers getting a duck … not much after that, Ryder s manager Aaron Klee told AFP.

Meanwhile, on February 9, 2015 (almost two years after the incident) Craig James O Neill, a builder, and his nephew Dylan James O Neill, a carpet layer, were accused of the assault. They were released on bail, but were finally sentenced on May 6.

Craig confessed he saw his younger, smaller nephew approached by a much larger man acting in an intimidating way. He added that he should have left it there, but he followed Ryder into the McDonald s car park and punched Ryder. It was that blow that had felled him. Dylan countered by mentioning that he had been punched three times and kicked by Ryder, but there was no evidence the punch and kick connected.

Judge Neave slapped a $3,000 fine on Craig and sentenced him to 250 hours of community work. Dylan felt remorseful and got away with a fine of $250. The verdict may sound too lenient to people in some parts of the world, but as Martin van Beynen wrote on stuff.co.nz, If the court removed the celebrity status of the victim, it was a very common, run-of-the-mill case, usually met with non-imprisonment sentencing options.

In between all this, on April 12, came another announcement: Ryder was banned for six months, for he tested positive for 1-Phenylbutan-2-amine (PBA) and N, alpha-diethyl-benzeneethanamine (DEBEA), on a random test conducted on March 24.

Teaming up with Corey

Ryder fought his way back to competitive cricket, turning out for Otago in the 2013-14 season after serving the ban. On his return to First-Class cricket (on October 27) he slammed a 164-ball 117 against Wellington. He scored three more hundreds that season, finishing with 776 runs at 60. The injury seemed to be a thing from distant past.

On New Year s Day 2014, the hapless West Indians ran into Ryder and Corey Anderson at Queenstown. Anderson stole the show, reaching his hundred in 36 balls, thereby smashing Shahid Afridi s record for the fastest ODI hundred; Ryder joined the party as well, bringing up his hundred in 45. West Indies, buried under New Zealand s 283 for 4 in 21 overs, sunk without a trace.

It is easy to forget Ryder s innings, for Anderson was the record-breaker, and scored the more spectacular of the two hundreds. It was unfortunate that a 46-ball hundred was not good enough to hog the limelight.

But he was getting there, or at least it seemed so. As Martin Crowe said, He has gone through hell and he has returned a richer man. A month after the whirlwind innings Ryder told Abhishek Purohit of ESPNCricinfo in a heartfelt interview: A couple of years ago, I stopped playing international cricket because I wasn t enjoying it. Just a lot of off-field stuff going on, just stuff I don’t really want to talk about. It s in the past now. I think the break did me wonders. To be back and enjoying cricket again, I am just loving life at the moment.

A few days later Ryder and Doug Bracewell paid a visit to a bar on the eve of the Eden Park Test against India. New Zealand Cricket investigated the matter. Ryder has not played international cricket ever since.

The land of The Boil

Not that it mattered to Ryder. He earned a contract with Essex, and had an excellent season with 630 runs at 37 and 44 wickets at 18. There were some tremendous performances: 5 for 54 and 5 for 56 against Kent and a 164-ball 133 and 3 for 43 to ensure a 10-wicket win against Gloucestershire; but his finest performance came against Worcestershire.

James Foster gave Ryder the new ball. With support from David Masters, Ryder claimed 5 for 24 and skittled out the tourists for 84. Ryder led the onslaught when Essex batted, slamming a 117-ball 120 not out, and adding 71 with Masters for the eighth wicket and 76 with Monty Panesar for the ninth. He took the first wicket when they bowled, and Essex won by an innings.

As mentioned earlier, Ryder declined a tour for New Zealand A (not for the first time in his life), thereby ensuring he lost his only chance to play a World Cup at home. He chose to play domestic cricket, scoring 452 runs at 57.

When an Ireland XI toured New Zealand in October, they ran into Otago at Lincoln. The Irish put up 248 for 8 before running into Ryder: his 50 took 16 balls and his 100, a mere 39. Ryder s 57-ball 136 came included 18 fours and 8 sixes. The score read 186 for 4 in 17.4 overs when he fell. Another day at work, well done.

In between all this, Ryder took to boxing. He participated in SKY Arena s charity Super 8 Boxing event in Christchurch, knocking out Whale Oil blogger Cameron Slater. What followed was surreal: Adam Hollioake, of all people, walked into the ring and challenged Ryder. Our hero was in the changing-room during the call-out, and was only informed by the backstage stuff.

As a confused Ryder told stuff.co.nz, It’s a bit of a shame; he [Hollioake] shook my hand as I came off actually, he should have hung around for a bit.

It may sound irrelevant here, but Ryder went through a strict fitness regime despite back injury losing 7 kg and reducing to a mere 103 kg. It is probably an indication that he could discipline himself if motivated sufficiently. Parore would have been happy.

The bout took place on March 28 a day before the World Cup final at MCG. Despite that, news got out for Ryder was, you see, Ryder and Martin Guptill, amidst all the activity, texted Ryder: I WAS LIKE, ARE YOU SERIOUS?

A smiling Ryder told Mat Kemreen of stuff.co.nz: There’s no one who needs more good luck than Marty Guptill and the crew. They ve just taken the country by storm and I said, look, you re the legend and I should be wishing you good luck. There was not a trace of ill-feeling for him not being a part of New Zealand s dream journey.

What does the future hold?

It is heartbreaking that a man destined for greatness is finally finding his groove in the small ground of Chelmsford, away from the glamour of international cricket. But as Jarrod Kimber pointed out, he is happy playing County cricket, and at the end of the day, that is what matters.

Indeed, he looks happy in those Essex colours    Getty Images
Indeed, he looks happy in those Essex colours Getty Images

It was, however, ironic that it was Essex that sought him out: Essex, the land of Trevor Bailey, Mike Denness, Keith Fletcher, Graham Gooch, Nasser Hussain, and Alastair Cook; Essex, whose overseas players have included Allan Border, Andy Flower, and Hashim Amla; Essex, the quintessentially anti-Jesse Ryder, un-sexy county was where our hero finally found his mojo.

Is this the future for Jesse Daniel Ryder? Kimber wrote on ESPNCricinfo: Sometimes only one fan will notice a partnership milestone. And that one fan will clap so long and hard on his own, it s like the landmark happened just for him. It’s nice. And it matters, but no one is going to get their house stoned. No one s mistake will end up as a worldwide meme. Politicians don t interfere. The press don t cover the players private lives. The fans don t crowd the players. It is just a cricket match, with a few people who really enjoy it. If you love the game but hate the fame, this is the place to be.

That, indeed, was what cricket used to be like in its Golden Age at the turn of the 20th century. Maybe that was what Ryder unknowingly or otherwise had been chasing all his life. Maybe international cricket is too ruthless to accommodate a man with a heart at big as his. But then, as long as he is happy and keeps Essex happy, who cares? Cricket s 21st century cult hero bats on in the English summer.

(Abhishek Mukherjee is the Chief Editor and Cricket Historian at CricketCountry. He blogs here and can be followed on Twitter here.)