Jesse Ryder says he's never been in better form but is no closer to committing to a return to international cricket.
The gifted left-hander broke his silence last night - but steered clear of Taylor-gate - after plundering 162 off 174 balls for Wellington against Central Districts at Karori Park.
It was his third successive first-class century against his old team as he reached 530 Plunket Shield runs for the season at an average of 106.
But the New Zealand team will depart for South Africa in the next two days without him, and there's no guarantees he'll be available for the England series starting in February. The self-imposed exile continues, until Ryder says otherwise.
"Not yet. I've got things I want to work on. I'm still trying to be happy again and find a love for the game again and stay on that sort of path.
I'll reassess it, come Christmas, with Aaron [Klee, his manager] and see where I'm at," Ryder said.
Ryder hasn't played for New Zealand since the Napier ODI against South Africa on February 29. Since then the 28-year-old entered the boxing ring under the guidance of renowned trainer Billy Graham, lost weight and swore off alcohol. It's clearly working for him and he's enjoying the Firebirds setup.
"The runs have been flowing and I reckon it's probably the best I'm seeing the ball as well. I'm pretty happy with what's happening.
"It's easily my best form. I can't complain, if you're scoring runs you're a happy batsman."
His secret? "It's just the fact that I don't really care when I'm out there at the moment. I'm just going out there and playing my natural game and not afraid of getting out and it's paying off for me."
The captaincy saga, and fallout between Ross Taylor and coach Mike Hesson piqued Ryder's interest last week. He gave his backing for Taylor on his Twitter page, and demanded New Zealand Cricket "show him some f...ing support". Asked whether he felt less inclined to return to the Black Caps after Taylor's treatment, Ryder declined to comment.
New captain Brendon McCullum contacted Ryder in recent days but didn't apply pressure to return. "We've had a couple of chats but nothing with him pushing for me to come back into the team just yet. He's seeing how I'm going and how I'm feeling."
McCullum staged a bizarre first-departure press conference as New Zealand skipper where much of the focus was on two players who weren't touring: Taylor and Ryder.
On a potential Ryder comeback, McCullum was cautious.
"Jesse still has some improvements he wants to make. When he's ready we'll definitely have a conversation about when is the right time to return. First and foremost it's about Jesse getting himself to a level where he's comfortable about dealing with the pressures that come with international cricket."
As he tries to focus on the most daunting prospect in world cricket, leading a team to South Africa, McCullum departs under the shadow of the Taylor-Hesson saga. He'd spoken to both men in recent days and was confident they could exist in the same dressing room for the England series, Taylor's targeted comeback.
"They're both grown men and very mature people and they've got the New Zealand cricket team's interests at heart," McCullum said.
"It's an uncomfortable scenario but I'm sure once the dust settles we'll be able to get on with working in a harmonious relationship for the betterment of the team."
Taylor needed space, McCullum said, and they would talk again in the next few weeks about a plan for his return.
- NZ Cricket chief executive David White and board chairman Chris Moller will, hopefully, shed more light on the captaincy fallout at a press conference at the Basin Reserve this morning.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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