Jesse Ryder: the troubled maverick

There’s a little bit of the redneck in all of us.” – Kaleb McIntire, country music singer.

Jesse Daniel Ryder would agree with McIntire’s lyrics. Life, in recent times, has tested his limits of endurance.

Jesse Ryder has had a troubled cricketing career

He has seen it all – the boozy nights, the triumphs on the cricket field, disciplinary breaches, and a recent life-threatening experience.

Born on 6 August, 1984, Jesse suffered his first emotional blow when his parents separated. He moved around with his father Peter before finally settling in Napier. As he would recount in 2009, the youngster basically did what he wanted – without any rules or boundaries in place. He and a close friend would stay at home twice or thrice a week, fiddling with their PlayStation or playing cricket in the backyard, while Jesse’s dad would return in the early hours of the morning.

Peter Ryder was just too busy to care for his son. Or maybe, he just didn’t want to be burdened with the responsibilities of being a single parent. So one day in 1998, when Jesse was 14, his father bolted to Australia after dropping him off at a friend’s place.

It was then that Jesse suffered his second emotional blow – barely into his teens, he was suddenly without a parent and a stable home. That’s when he started partying; no rules, no set boundaries, nothing.

Bouncing around friends’ homes and indulging in what he now terms as “binge-drinking”, Jesse also discovered a new talent: cricket. The rough, slightly rotund youngster eventually went on to represent New Zealand in the 2002 U-19 World Cup.

In that tournament, Ryder made a mark during the Super League match against Australia, blasting a hurricane 70 off 62 balls – catching the Kangaroos by surprise. However, Australia won thanks to a match-winning innings from captain and all-rounder Cameron White. Nevertheless, Ryder had caught the public’s eye with his power hitting.

His cricketing exploits saw him make the Wellington side in the 2002-03 season, and five years later, he made his ODI debut in the series against England. In the second game of that tourney, Jesse won his first Man-of-the-Match award for a blistering innings of 79 runs in 62 balls.

New Zealand Cricket’s Selection Manager, the legendary Sir Richard Hadlee, had stated that the left-hander had the potential to provide an explosive start along with Brendon McCullum at the top of the order; Jesse seemed well on the way to justify his belief.

But all that changed on February 24, 2008. The rebel streak, primed by yet another drinking bout, resulted in the young man cutting his hand badly while trying to break into a toilet at a Christchurch bar. NZ had just won the ODI series against England, and it was revealed that Jesse had been drinking until 1.30 am prior to the final game. His demand for preferential treatment at the hospital led to altercations with the staff – just another example of his long struggle with alcohol and anger management.

Former NZ wicket-keeper Adam Parore’s comments – that Ryder was too fat and in no fit state to play for the country – had also rankled the young all-rounder. At the time, he had laughed it off before unleashing his signature flicks and short-arm pulls against England. The 24-year-old’s talent was never in question; it was his off-field indiscretions that were fast becoming his bugbears.

He was dropped from the ODI side in January 2009 following another drinking session, which caused him to miss a team meeting the following day. He admits that it was a “real” wake-up call after being unable to train in the afternoon – something his fellow teammates would not stand for. It shocked him to the core – he had never wanted to let his boys down.

NZC’s then-CEO Justin Vaughan and Jesse’s manager Aaron Klee were on-hand to help the young cricketer as he battled his drinking problem and re-focused his attention towards his game. He agreed to go “cold-turkey”, refraining from alcoholic binges.

During India’s tour of New Zealand, Ryder shone with the bat – scoring 225 runs during the ODI series, including his maiden century (105 off 72 balls). He also posted his first Test double-century at Napier during the second match of the series, scoring 201 in a partnership of 271 with good friend Ross Taylor. It was a glorious period for Ryder – he became the first New Zealander, since Nathan Astle, to score two centuries in two consecutive Test matches.

Jesse Ryder could not remain sober, or out of trouble, for long

Then he was signed by the Royal Challengers Bangalore for the 2009 edition – and fell off the wagon after 100 days of sobriety. He got to play only 5 games, scoring a total of 56 runs as his team made it to the finals. Later, he played in the 2009 ICC World T20 tournament, playing against Scotland before a groin infection ruled him out for the rest of the event.

He was hitting the headlines – for both the right and wrong reasons. It was then that his father attempted to re-establish contact with his son, asking him for a hundred dollars. Jesse declined, and when told that Peter would return from Australia, simply said that he would believe it when he saw it. He has addressed this fragile relationship with his father through numerous counselling sessions, and has achieved some sense of closure.

Other quills will speak of his various stellar knocks – beset by a torn leg abductor muscle, he unleashed his frustration by knocking the Sri Lankan bowling all over the park in a brutal innings of 74. His misdemeanours were also starting to become frequent – he abused team manager Dave Currie in response to a “dressing down”, and was slapped with yet another misconduct charge for intoxication in August 2010.

He did sparkle briefly on NZ’s tour of India in late 2010 – adding 194 runs with debutant Kane Williamson while posting his third Test century. It was his first ton outside New Zealand, and came at a stage when they were in pursuit of India’s first innings total of 487. Ryder would make two more half-centuries in that Test series, which New Zealand eventually lost 0-1. He also turned out for the Pune Warriors in the 2011 IPL season, turning in some decent performances.

In March 2012, Jesse decided to take an indefinite break from international cricket. It had all become just too much – his drinking had spiralled out of control, he had put on a lot of weight, and his injuries kept piling up. Despite belting a superb 162 off 174 balls against Central Districts in December that year, the troubled young lad was still not ready to return to the international arena.

Life has a habit of testing us when we least expect it. Jesse was no different.

In the early hours of March 28, 2013, he was viciously assaulted outside the Aikman’s Bar at Merivale, Christchurch while out celebrating with his Wellington teammates. He was due to fly out to India to join the Delhi Daredevils. The attack left him with a fractured skull and a collapsed lung, and he was put under a medically-induced coma.

It was the last straw. The rebellious streak had to end. All his frustrations, his abandonment as a teen by his father, his indiscretions off the field and the drinking binges – everything had boiled over. He came out of the coma after a few days, and returned to recuperate at his Wellington home.

With the support of manager Aaron Klee, who has long stood by his client and friend, Jesse is slowly returning to normalcy. He has recovered from the aftermath of that murderous assault, and announced his decision to play for the Otago Volts. He will be reunited with his former coach Vaughn Johnson – a man he considers to be his mentor and perhaps a father figure. As of now, Jesse is still in rehabilitation, and preparing to make yet another comeback into the national side.

Whenever he returns, Jesse Daniel Ryder will once again be cheered vociferously by the NZ crowd. He is their cult-hero, the resident “bad boy”, the power-hitting opener who is a treat to watch when he’s in full flow.

As he turns 29 today, the hopes of many Kiwi cricket fans will re-ignite as they await his return to the national fold.

Happy Birthday, mate!

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