Wellington: New Zealand cricket's wild child Jesse Ryder, seriously injured in a vicious assault this week, is a huge talent with the bat who struggles with alcohol demons and is a self-confessed bad boy. In a tumultuous international career marred by a string of disciplinary lapses, the powerful all-rounder averages 40.93 in 18 Tests but last year went into self-imposed exile to sort out his "personal issues".
The 28-year-old, who continues to catch the eye in domestic competition, has rejected all overtures to return to the New Zealand team, despite public clamour for his recall. In the early hours of Thursday morning, Ryder was rushed to hospital after being assaulted as he left a bar in the South Island city of Christchurch. Ryder had been drinking with his Wellington team-mates after a season-ending loss to Canterbury, but police said alcohol was not a factor in the beating he sustained. Witnesses said the attack appeared unprovoked.
But drink has frequently been at the centre of Ryder's troubles and the player has in the past sought psychological help to help get his career back on track. In a 2010 interview he revealed how his life changed when his parents split. "Dad bounced when I was about 14; he just took off man. He just dropped me off at a mate's one day and said he'd see me in a week. He never came back," he told the Sunday News. "That's probably where that rebel streak and badness comes from. I just didn't have any boundaries once he left."
His formative teenage years were spent moving around friends' homes, sleeping on their couches and forming an association with alcohol. "I guess I could be classed as a bad boy and it's true, I did like going out (drinking). It wasn't so much fighting, more so just getting on the beers with the boys." But his cricket talent shone through and by the time he left school the left-handed batsman was already on the New Zealand radar.
In 2008, he made an inauspicious start to his Test career, scoring one and 38 on debut against Bangladesh but the following year he made his debut Test century against India and followed up with a career-best 201. Yet the career of the New Zealander, who has also taken Test and one-day international wickets with his right-arm medium, has frequently been disrupted by alcohol-related incidents.
During the 2008 home series against England his season ended early when he cut his hand trying to break into a bar toilet after a night out drinking following a one-day international victory. The following year he was dropped after another night out because he missed a team meeting and was unable to train.
That stung Ryder because it was the players and not officials who told him they would not tolerate such behaviour. "At that stage, we had peer assessments and that was the worst thing. I never want to let the boys down," he said. Despite his off-field problems, Ryder's prodigious talent ensured he remained an important part of the Black Caps side and in 2010 then New Zealand Cricket chief executive Justin Vaughan pledged to help him.
But the demons reappeared the following year and Ryder was censured after a drunken night during an indoor cricket tournament. And last year he went drinking in a breach of team protocol after a one-day defeat against South Africa, becoming involved in a heated argument with bar patrons.
After being dropped from the next game, Ryder began his self-imposed international exile and has not appeared in New Zealand colours since. He rejected lucrative offers to play in Sri Lanka, English county cricket and Australia's Twenty20 Big Bash League. But with the domestic season over he was about to head to the lucrative Indian Premier League when he was attacked on Thursday.
While Thursday's incident did not appear to be alcohol-related, New Zealand Cricket Players' Association chief executive Heath Mills said Ryder was known to have resumed drinking in recent weeks and steps had been taken to help him. "It will be an ongoing battle for Jesse and we need to do all we can to help him, but he's got those demons. And so it shouldn't be a surprise in the future if we have to deal with isolated issues."