Cult hero Jesse Ryder has been dubbed the "bad boy" of New Zealand cricket after being busted for boozy nights and run-ins with officials.
But the hugely talented player, now busily cleaning up his act, has revealed the wild childhood behind his sometimes self-destructive behaviour.
In an exclusive interview, the 25-year-old Black Cap says he was raised with little control after his parents split early in his life and his father walked out on him when he was just 14-years-old.
"I haven't ever really had boundaries or rules set in place for me, even when I was a young fella," Ryder told Sunday News, at his home in Lower Hutt.
"Growing up, I basically just did what I wanted to do so it has been really hard to change the way I do things."
He was moved around the Wairarapa and finally settled in Napier with dad Peter.
"I didn't really have the best upbringing in Napier because my old man was always going out and coming in late," Ryder said.
"My mate and I would just stay at home on our own at least two or three times a week just playing PlayStation or backyard cricket. My dad would turn up in the early hours of the morning."
Then he was left on his own when his father suddenly moved to Australia.
"Dad bounced when I was about 14; he just took off man. He just dropped me off at a mate's one day and said he'd see me in a week. He never came back.
"That's probably where that rebel streak and badness comes from. I just didn't have any boundaries once he left."
Bouncing around friends' places and sleeping on their couches, he started partying.
"I guess I could be classed as a bad boy and it's true, I did like going out on the p**s. It wasn't so much fighting, more so just getting on the beers with the boys."
It was also the time his drinking and sport began to intersect.
"I started playing a lot of indoor cricket... and we were doing a lot of road trips," Ryder said. "I was always drinking with the boys in the team and that's about the point in my life where it all started I guess."
It was also the point where the rare cricketing ability that would take him to the very top of the game began to blossom.
He notched a century in the 4th form at Napier Boys, top scored with 272 for the college and was propelled into the Central Districts team and on to the Black Caps.
Even with the injuries and controversies that have marked his two-year international spell, he has stamped himself as one of the world's premier batsmen.
Last year, in front of a home crowd at Napier, Ryder scored 201 in the second test against India. His 271-run partnership with Ross Taylor was a fourth-wicket record for New Zealand. Ryder also blasted 105 runs off 72 balls against India for the third-fastest one day international century for NZ.
As he began hitting the headlines, his dad attempted to re-establish contact, Ryder said. "I had the odd call which cracked me up. I was basically waiting for it to happen."
Ryder said one of their chats included a request from his father along the lines of: "Hey mate, can I borrow a hundred bucks here. I was just like, `Nah mate'."
His father has told him he'll return from Australia. "I won't believe that until I see it," Ryder said. "I talk to him every now and then when he rings but I don't go out of my way to call him."
His mother has remarried and lives in Northland. He sees her a couple of times a year.
Ryder has addressed his unsettled upbringing and his still fraught relationship with his dad, in counselling sessions over the last months. That and the passage of time is helping him come to terms with his past.
But one demon which continues to haunt him is the public's perception of him as being too keen on the drink.
His 2007/08 season ended on February 24, 2008 when he badly cut his hand trying to break into a toilet at a Christchurch bar at 5:30am the day after NZ had won the one-day series against England. It was later revealed he had been drinking until 1:30am before the fifth ODI against England. And on January 7 last year, after a night out in Wellington following the 3rd ODI against the West Indies, he missed a team meeting the next morning and was unable to train in the afternoon. He was dropped for the 4th ODI.
Ryder admits the window incident happened after having "a few too many", and his ODI dropping followed "a big night" in the capital. The latter was a real wake-up call because it was his fellow players, not officials or the media, who let him have it.
"I had to do a mad fitness session, and I came pretty close to vomiting, and then I got ripped into by my team-mates, who said they won't tolerate that sort of crap from me," he said. "I know I need to be professional and I desperately want the respect of my team-mates.
"At that stage, we had peer assessments and that was the worst thing. I never want to let the boys down."
Ryder says he is learning how to control the drinking. He's had a few festive beers over Christmas and New Year but is now back on track as he rebuilds his fitness.
"I know I can't afford to go feral and that basically keeps me in my place and I know when to stop," he said.
"The worst thing, I think, was I had a real habit of binge drinking. I would be with my boys and we'd do drinking games.
"It was like `bang' and I would be skulling drinks throughout the night which probably caused most of my problems.
"Most people would say I had a problem with booze. They'd see me with a drink and say `alcoholic'. I don't think I was in the first place, but that did get put out there because of some of the things I've done in the past.
"I have had a problem with binge-drinking, but I don't wake up in the morning and crave a drink.
"From where I was to where I am now, I'm happy with where I'm going."
Ryder will never fit the cricket establishment mould but his human frailty, plus his cricketing genius, have made him a firm favourite with the fans.
When he ran on to Auckland's Eden Park, a towel around his neck, as 12th-man drinks-boy after his ODI dropping, the crowd went wild.
"I didn't know what to think really," Ryder said. "I didn't expect to get a massive cheer for doing something stupid. There were signs there like, `Only diet Coke for you now Ryder'.
"Going from where I was to now, it's quite crazy how much the public really supports me."
Black Caps' captain Daniel Vettori said Ryder is the most popular cricketer he's ever played with.
There was little praise however from Black Cap-turned-commentator Adam Parore when Ryder was first selected for the ODI squad.
Parore said he was "too fat" and "in no fit state to play for New Zealand".
A glimpse of the Ryder of old comes out when he's reminded of those comments.
"I just laughed it off and then went out there and showed I could play international cricket.
"But somewhere in the back of my mind I was hoping that I would one-day bump into him down a back alley," he said cheekily.
Parore may be interested to note Ryder's fitness regime includes kickboxing!
Ryder is now older and wiser and staying true to himself. "I'm not going to sit at home every weekend and do nothing. If the boys want to go out, I'll go out because that's what I like to do. But I now realise I can't afford to be stupid any more.
"Growing up, I always enjoyed going out with my mates, having a good time and basically doing what young people do. It sort of carried on a bit longer than it probably should have maybe. I'm still a young fella, though, and I'm probably still going to make mistakes as I learn. In some respects, it's a good thing to be different.
"I think that's maybe why I do have some of the fans that I do, because they probably respect the fact that I am different and a bit wild at times."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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