IT'S A dream scenario for any first-class match in the country, but for Hawke's Bay it's the sort of stuff Hollywood scripts are made of - comeback kid returns "home" where he learned his trade after losing his way off the beaten track in the smouldering cauldron of cricket.
As it happens, Jesse Ryder was at Nelson Park, Napier, yesterday and the cameras were on him but he wasn't going to talk.
It seems his manager, Aaron Klee, still wants him wrapped in cottonwool, as it were.
"His manager is handling things so there [sic] not doing media at moment sorry," Wellington Firebirds assistant coach Shane Deitz sent in a text to Hawke's Bay Today of the 28-year-old allrounder who honed his batting prowess in Hawke's Bay.
Point taken as Ryder, a former Napier Boys' High School pupil, is returning to first-class cricket from tomorrow at Nelson Park, Napier, in the opening four-day Plunket Shield cricket match against the Devon Hotel Central Districts Stags.
The former Complete Flooring Napier Technical Old Boys player is making a comeback following a self-imposed break from the international game since February, but Wellington Cricket have contracted him amid inquiries from Black Caps coach Mike Hesson about his progress.
While highly talented, the former Black Cap fell out of favour with national selectors after a turbulent phase in which he lost the plot on a tour of duty as he battled with drink demons as well as grappled with his weight.
While not glossy front-page sports magazine material, Ryder yesterday looked trimmer as he played touch rugby with his teammates in front of the pavilion.
Suffice it to say the wonder kid of summers gone knows every blade of grass at the pristine Nelson Park and exactly how the batter-friendly wicket will behave in the next four days as he begins his campaign to return to the Black Caps fold anaemic of runs.
"I'm middling that ball beautifully," says Ryder, according to a close friend who exchanged texts with him.
Not long after arriving at the park from Hamilton early yesterday afternoon, rookie skipper Stephen Murdoch tabled a glowing report on Ryder.
"It's great to have a guy like Jesse around. He's a fantastically talented batsman so, hopefully, he'll go out there and keep his form that he has shown in the pre-season.
"He's a great guy to watch when he's in form and he's adding a lot to the guys - both on and off the park he's been fantastic.
"We're really forward to seeing him score lots of runs in the next few weeks."
Ryder in the past few days has scored two centuries in warm-up Twenty/20 matches, including one against the Northern Districts Knights.
"He scored one off about 38 balls and the other off 48 balls so, as you can imagine, I wouldn't want to be a bowler on those days," Murdoch says, adding the Firebirds played a two-day match against the Knights in Hamilton before heading for Napier.
"That's as simply as I can put it. He was hitting the balls to all parts of the park ground," he says of Ryder. "It'll be up to him how he wants to go out to play the four-day game for us because he is a very good first-class player as well," Murdoch says of Ryder who will be expected to bat in the middle order, although the Firebirds hadn't selected their starting XI by yesterday.
Murdoch is relishing walking out to the wicket tomorrow with fellow rookie captain Kieran Noema-Barnett for the toss.
"I know Barney a little bit, having played against him, so it'll be good to get out there."
Murdoch says Wellington also have a blend of youth and experience like the Stags with some test and seasoned first-class players. "I'd be lying if I don't say we're wanting to get out there on Sunday to win but winning is the byproduct of consistently trying to do the right things for the four days.
"Consistency is a big thing for us this year so we want to make sure our batting and bowling plans are executed again and again.
"In the past we've been really good for maybe three-quarters of a day or four out of five sessions but that one session has cost us so we'll be looking for a complete performance.
"We'll be keeping it pretty simple in the four-day matches this year. We won't be trying anything too fancy but just doing the right things as often as we can."
He is comfortable with the dexterity of his seam and spin bowlers, relishing getting out of a grey and gloomy capital city at this time of the year to prepare on grass wickets in Hamilton and here.
"If we're bowling last then it doesn't worry us too much."
That versatility means the Firebirds are not worried who the coin will favour tomorrow to earn the right to bat or bowl first.
"Jeet's been bowling pretty well for a fairly long time now. He had a fantastic off-season with Warwickshire so he took a lot of wickets there," he says of veteran Black Cap Jeetan Patel, who has displaced CD's leg spinner, Tarun Nethula.
With four quality seamers to pick from - Andy McKay, Mark Gillespie, Scott Kuggeleign and Dane Hutchison - Wellington also boast medium pacers in Ryder and Grant Elliott.
Wicketkeeper Luke Ronchi, who will join the team today, is coming fresh from the Champions League campaign in South Africa.
"He played one game for us last year - and that was against the Stags and he scored a hundred that day - so he's kept the bar pretty high."
CD STAGS (from): Kieran Noema-Barnett (c), Roald Badenhorst, Doug Bracewell, Carl Cachopa, Jamie How, Andrew Lamb, Andrew Mathieson, Tarun Nethula, Jeet Raval, Mathew Sinclair, Kruger van Wyk, Ben Wheeler, William Young.
WELLINGTON FIREBIRDS (from): Stephen Murdoch (c), Michael Papps, Mike Pollard, Jesse Ryder, Grant Elliott, Luke Woodcock, Luke Ronchi, Jeetan Patel, Andy McKay, Mark Gillespie, Scott Kuggeleign, Dane Hutchinson.