David Leggat on sport

David Leggat is a Herald sport writer

David Leggat: Bashing of Ryder dark end to season

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Jesse Ryder has polarised opinion.  Photo / Ross Setford
Jesse Ryder has polarised opinion. Photo / Ross Setford

New Zealand's domestic season finishes tomorrow at Eden Park.

Auckland and Canterbury will be desperate to end the summer with something in the cabinet.

The talk around the outer oval should be about the cricket, but it's safe to assume that will jockey as a discussion point with an event in Christchurch late on Wednesday night which had nothing to do with cricket, sport even, other than the victim.

It may sound brutal but if you were told a prominent New Zealand cricketer had been the victim of an appalling late night beating outside a bar, one name would have sprung to mind.

Jesse Ryder's life has been a blend of cricketing brilliance and off-field indiscretions. He has polarised opinion.

You can find plenty of unabashed Ryder fans, who'll forgive him just about anything.

These include the genuinely well-meaning and the clowns who turn up at the country's grounds shouting "come and have a beer Jesse" because it's funny.

Then there's the flipside, those who have struggled to understand the repeated chances he has been given by cricket officials; who admire his talent but wish he could somehow banish the "other" side of his personality.

Not that easy when you're an alcoholic. Ryder has been battling those demons a long time.

New Zealand Cricket Players Association boss Heath Mills admitted this week that Ryder has had recent lapses in his fight to beat the bottle.

In the days and weeks ahead there will be a range of lines of inquiry into the incident.

Wellington Cricket's role will be one.

Should it have been more assertive in ensuring that if a few quiet drinks were to be had to mark the end of the season, with Ryder as a team member present - and this is not suggesting he was even drinking on Wednesday night - there weren't some checks in place? For example, why was Ryder the last player to leave the Aikmans Bar, rather than exiting at the same time as his teammates? It may not sound much, but with this player, and his history, it is.

The Players' Association are key figures in what lies ahead in a purely sporting sense.

And there will be speculation about what the cricket future holds for Ryder.

But all those issues pale alongside the central point, which is Ryder's injuries and his recovery.

News late yesterday afternoon that his condition had been downgraded from critical to stable, and that he had given a thumbs-up gesture to medical staff and family at Christchurch Hospital are the brightest developments since the attack.

One prediction which cannot be challenged: in cricket terms the pity will be if Ryder's talent is not seen in full flower again. There is no question that he can be a truly outstanding batsman. New Zealand hasn't had many to match Ryder in terms of batting gifts.

You would struggle to find a first-class cricketer around the country who does not have a good word to say about him, even if they don't share his off-field outlook on life.

New Zealand cricket should be on a high after a competitive, engrossing test series against England. Now this.

Obviously no fault is attached to Ryder here. It's just a shame.

- NZ Herald

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