The Jesse conundrum

Jesse Ryder has this habit of riding back into troubles. News comes out that he and Doug Bracewell are under investigation for breaking the team curfew, visiting an Auckland bar and being involved in an incident the night before the first Test. By S. Dinakar.

Cricket has this habit of throwing up heroes. The Indians are overwhelmed by New Zealand in the final ODI. The celebrations at Wellington’s Westpac Stadium are bright and loud. And the 22-year-old Matt Henry emerges the star of the night. The lanky bowler, with a high-arm action, playing only because Tim Southee has a niggle, scalps four.

The crowd chants, ‘Henry’s our man.’ After the defeat, the Indian team, out on the ground for the presentation ceremony, is taunted with words “four-nil” repeatedly by a section of the Kiwi supporters.

From Wellington, we travel to Whangarei. This peaceful town is close to the northern-most tip of the North Island. In fact, Whangarei is less than an hour’s drive from the popular resort town of Paihia, with its beaches and sunshine. This area is part of the famous Bay of Islands.

This Bay is also famous as a stress buster, with big-game fishing and sailing. On Saturdays, you can see endless streams of cars racing on the motorway to Paihia.

Whangarei is nicely situated between Auckland and the Bay of Islands. It’s a sort of a stopover city for the travellers and offers plenty of scenic beauty. This is a town of mountains and lakes, lovely houses with gardens, and warm people.

The Indian cricketers are in Whangarei, the venue for the only tour game of their campaign in New Zealand. The Cobham Oval, where the match is played, is a quaint ground flanked by hills.

Below sea level for a long period and facing the problem of water logging, the Cobham Oval received a facelift in 2006 with a local corporate giant sponsoring its renovation. Everything here has been done aesthetically. The pavilion has been modelled on the iconic building at Lord’s.

Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Virat Kohli have stayed back in Auckland after the final ODI. Now, if the captain and his deputy do not travel with the team for the only side match of the tour — against New Zealand XI — where performances can be assessed, it certainly sends a wrong message to the rest of the team.

The ODI series had truly been gruelling, with just the travel and the pre-match days ahead of every game. But then, if Dhoni and Kohli were tired, so should have been every other member of the ODI side now part of the Test squad.

There are other issues as well. The captain, the vice-captain and the coach comprise the selection panel on a tour. Now, with two of them missing in action at Whangarei, it must have been disappointing to those on the fringes wanting to push their cases for selection to the team for the Test series.

Ishwar Pandey, the tall paceman from Madhya Pradesh, bowls with heart and skill to scalp three. Importantly, his line is impeccable. Later Rohit Sharma, the Indian skipper for the match, says, “Pandey was the pick of the bowlers. He bowled very well.”

However, the two Indian cricketers who matter were elsewhere. Did Pandey’s display get noticed?

There is a languid charm about cricket in the smaller towns. People are hospitable and looking forward to the occasion.

For the first time on the tour, the media are treated to food from a local Indian restaurant.

Cricket too makes for a pleasurable viewing. The sun is out, the distant canopies sway in the wind, and the sound of wood hitting leather fills the air. This is how cricket was meant to be played; in an open, relaxed ambience, away from the maddening crowds.

Meanwhile, the pre-Test fever is gradually building up. There are queries from a few Kiwi scribes about the qualities of Cheteshwar Pujara, of whom they had heard so much.

The flight from Whangarei to Auckland is short — 25 minutes to be precise. The ride from the Auckland Airport to the city, in fact, takes longer. And then, it’s a rush to the Eden Park where the New Zealand team is having its open media session.

Jesse Ryder, smiling, laughing, at ease with himself and the people around him, is the cynosure. He is affable, almost childlike in his enthusiasm and brings cheer to all. Fans pose with him for photographs, friends put their arms around him, and journalists swarm this Kiwi.

Ryder, many feel, has left those dark, painful days behind him after he had slipped into a coma after being brutally attacked in a Christchurch bar last year. But then, he also has this habit of riding back into troubles. News comes out that Ryder and Doug Bracewell are under investigation for breaking the team curfew, visiting an Auckland bar and being involved in an incident the night before the first Test. The two are then suspended.

The horrors of a troubled childhood, after his parents separated early, keep coming back to haunt Ryder.

That’s life, that’s cricket. Both are intertwined.