Jesse Ryder has refused lucrative offers in favour of redemption, writes Andrew Alderson
Jesse Ryder is not only resisting returning to the New Zealand cricket team too early - he is also batting off lucrative offers to go overseas and cautiously shaping his resurrection with key figures such as director of cricket John Buchanan and Black Caps captain Ross Taylor.
Both have been in discussions with the batsman and his management team about the best way to return him to the international fold. In the meantime, Ryder is staying in New Zealand.
"Jesse has been offered huge money to go offshore (over winter); sums that'd make your eyes water - into Sri Lanka (for their new T20 league), English county cricket and the Australian Big Bash (T20) league," says his manager, Aaron Klee. "Those offers would have been tempting for most cricketers but Jesse wanted to stay home and play for Wellington. He's more grounded than people probably think.
"He definitely wants to play for New Zealand again and wants to be the country's best ever batsman. He just needs to re-find his passion."
That search has closely involved Buchanan and Taylor, although Klee thinks Ryder's presence in South Africa is "extremely unlikely". Ryder is not expected to play for New Zealand until at least February when England arrive, provided he sustains his form.
Klee, Players Association boss Heath Mills and psychologist Karen Nimmo have formulated and tweaked a plan since March to help Ryder have a consistent period in the domestic game. If he waits until England's arrival to return to the international ranks, he will get a chance to play six Plunket Shield matches and the entire HRV Cup Twenty20 competition. Buchanan and Taylor have also been closely liaising.
"I haven't talked to (New Zealand coach) Mike Hesson yet but we've had regular conversations with John Buchanan," Klee says. "He's been awesome. Not one time has he tried to dictate what Jesse should be doing. He's very much a listener - understanding and supportive. We've gone to great lengths to keep NZC involved because we want Jesse to have a future with them.
"Ross has also been a key figure. Jesse and Ross go back a long way to their days in the Wairarapa. I know Jesse wants to support Ross as captain. Ross has been in contact via text and I know he called Jesse between the recent tours (World T20 and Sri Lanka) to see how he was getting on."
Klee warns against expecting miracles from Ryder's latest redemption project. "It is a work in progress. The recent centuries were instant gratification but he wants to do that week-in, week-out. He's going to have ups and downs, good headlines followed by bad. Factions of the media need to accept that. He's going to disappoint and he's going to thrill."
Ryder hasn't played a test since December or a limited overs international since February, when he stood down from cricket indefinitely. He is now contracted to Wellington rather than NZC. Fans were reminded of his talent with twin centuries (117 not out and 174) in his first class return for Wellington this week. Ryder's efforts helped Wellington to an improbable victory, chasing 343 to win in the fourth innings against Central Districts at Napier in the opening round of the Plunket Shield. However, he also demonstrated his abrasive streak. Ryder faces a code of conduct hearing for bad language across several overs after being denied a leg-before-wicket decision against Kruger van Wyk.
"Jesse is not your typical white collar, middle-class guy," Klee says. "He's different and the public need to accept that. It's part of the battle moving him forward. There will always be rocky moments."
Buchanan says progress has been made: "Jesse is one of those people, like it or not, who will always attract attention for good and not-so-good reasons. He needs to settle himself so he is in a better position to deal with that public persona. His return is not as definite as the England series either. It's one step, one match, one day and one hour at a time.
"He is a cricketer who has dealt with a huge range of issues in his career. Now with Aaron his manager, the Players Association and Wellington Cricket we are trying to map out his future as he takes more responsibility for his behaviour."
Nimmo has now worked as Ryder's psychologist for four years: "I'm proud of Jess. His cricketing ability has never been in doubt but he faces so many other challenges trying to live his daily life. It's a bit like cricket. Plenty of frustrations and disappointments."