I was playing cricket a few years ago at Kelburn Park. The game hadn't quite started - kick off was about 11 am. I was playing with a Maori guy from Hawke's Bay and he turned up with one his mates - a bigger-framed bloke in his teens. He was drunk, or at least looked and acted drunk, and as play commenced he sat on the terraces and yelled unintelligible things every so often. It was Jesse Ryder.
He had already played for Central Districts, but was injured or suspended. He was either at the end of a very long night, or at the start of a long day. As we plodded around several strata below the level he played, my teammates discussed guys who had thrown their natural talent away - screw-ups in all sorts of different sports, and cricket players like Roy Gilchrist, David Murray, Jimmy Matthews, Aaqib Javed, and Carl Bulfin who didn't make the full use of their talent. Ryder seemed heading that way.
A move to Wellington improved Ryder's mental state - but last year there were intemperate comments about not being selected for the Black Caps, a toy-throwing about qualifying for England, and reports of ballooning weight and drinking.
When Ryder was selected a couple of weeks ago Adam Parore launched. Ryder had a bad attitude and was too fat. Parore invoked portly Jock Edwards and David Boon as examples of players who would not be selected in today's fitness-conscious environment.
On the bad-attitude charge it was surely a case of the pot dropping a line to the kettle to indicate the kettle was of darker hue. In the first few years of his international career Parore was a disaster zone in pads - the kind of player who should have klaxons sounding when he walked into a dressing room.
As for Ryder being too corpulent, I say if you're good enough you're thin enough. Parore after all played alongside Craig McMillan, a fairly large chap, for half his career, and played against the likes of Inzamam and Merv Hughes, neither of whom regularly ignored a pie-warmer. Shane Warne was never trim the entirety of his career, and is the greatest player of our generation. Parore, at his peak, had a wonderfully sculpted body - I know, I saw it when he took off his shirt in a bar in the West Indies trying to impress some American medical students. Chat-up lines clearly weren't his thing. But why come out swinging at Jesse Ryder? Why not let Ryder do the swinging?
Last night he made his debut. He is much bigger than he was five years ago but his weight didn't seem to affect his fielding - and he took a wicket with his Astle-esque dobblers. He also outscored the rest of the top order, including two monstrous hits - slaps that stayed slapped. He didn't just seem not over-awed, he seemed born to that arena.
I am not the Yoda of cricket, but someone who can time the ball like that is a once-in-a-decade find, and I have been supporting Ryder's selection since I began blogging in October. I would not have selected him in the test XI until Monday morning, however, when Scott Styris announced he was concentrating on the abbreviated game. That is a sad loss - Styris averages in the mid-thirties (and better than Chris Cairns, Bruce Edgar, Bevan Congdon and Walter Hadlee) and has five test centuries to his credit - but in Jesse Ryder we have a readymade, if slightly wider, replacement.
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