What makes Jesse Ryder a cult hero
New Zealand cricket - and the morons it attracts like moths to a flame - sure know how to take the gloss off what should have been a glorious week celebrating the renaissance of Test cricket in the land of the long white cloud.
The morning after the excruciating magnificence of the final day of the third Test at Eden Park, Ross Taylor kicked things off with some burbled mutterings on a radio breakfast show about how "over the next couple of weeks or months things might get told". He prised off the captaincy scab that many had hoped was healing nicely, and the appalling timing of his whining lost him a lot of sympathy and demonstrated poor judgment.
Then, 24 hours later, as Kiwi cricket fans raised their dented foreheads from the nation's desks after the former captain's whingeing, Taylor's issues with coach Mike Hesson (or "Hesson" as he calls him these days) paled into insignificance as the Jesse Ryder assault erupted into headlines and bulletins.
The news hit hard, and it was initially tricky to give Ryder the benefit of the doubt given his stellar curriculum vitae of occasional delinquency and finding himself amidst all sorts of unfortunate situations. However, all the information that has emerged this time around points to him being in the wrong place at the wrong time, with a couple of moronic moths in his face.
In the contemporary Kiwi cricketing milieu, Ryder is one of the least boring characters on the scene. He is one of the few players who triggers the cricket-watching gene and has people stop mowing the lawns to traipse inside and watch him bat.
Jesse has found himself a cult hero in the New Zealand game, alongside blokes like Chris Martin (batting prowess), Lance Cairns (sixes at the MCG), Rodney Redmond (100 and benched), Brian McKechnie (underarm forward defensive and bat hurl), Ewen Chatfield (metronomic length and a moustache) and Chris Cairns (tonking sixes and being his father's son). Even Mark Richardson used to be one as he pitted his three shots against the world's best bowlers and came out on top a ridiculously high percentage of the time.
Cult heroes are not born but created out of cricket fans' romanticism and sentimentality. They are never the absolute best players, nor the most reliable. They are probably the player with unfulfilled promise, or a master of the awkward shot or unconventional bowling action, or a trouble magnet, or a loyal but unspectacular performer, or a firebrand wearing passion on the outside. These cricketers often demonstrate a major weakness but succeed despite it, and we love them for it.
Dissecting the appeal of a cult hero is not an exact science, but with Ryder it lies in the inability to put a veneer of boringness on whatever it is he does. With so many cricketers deliberately keeping a low profile, doing nothing much of interest off the field ever, spouting clichés in interviews, and being mind-numbingly risk averse he stands out as providing observers with something human, something to relate to.
When he is out here lathering opening bowlers onto the roofs of stands around the country, you can see him smile, not in an arrogant way, but as if he is thinking exactly what we're yelling at each other and our TV screens: "Sheee-yit, did you see that one? How the hell did that one get hit so sweet?"
We all see a little bit of ourselves out there with him. He smacks the ball as well as anyone in the game of course, but we like to think he is playing just like we do on the beach or in the backyard. There is a beautiful simplicity to his approach that we admire, of course underestimating the remarkable co-ordination that sees him doing it to a red leather ball spearing in at 135km/hr, rather than a taped tennis ball lolloping down from Uncle Brian.
Ryder is also beloved just for bearing an un-boring physical frame. An international cricketer who carries a few kilograms around, but is still nimble in the field and fast enough between the wickets is rare. We love a good endomorph in our game - we don't want all of our players to look like The Rock, Kate Moss or Haile Gebraselassie.
His battle with the bottle and the consequences of a few bourbons, his rubber arm have been well-traversed. But the point is that a player who enjoys a few drinks and does something silly, just like those on the other side of the boundary rope, is going to be appreciated for being just like the rest of us. As one punter commented on a Ryder profile a few moons ago: "Leave Jesse alone...Just do what you do best Jess, score some runs - I don't care what time you got home last night…"
Once he emerges from the Christchurch Hospital and gets on with his convalescence, Ryder may well be surprised at the level of reaction and sympathy that his assault has engendered. But he shouldn't be, because he has become a New Zealand sportsman who intrigues many.
I get the feeling some of the hardcore Kiwi media don't understand the fascination with Ryder, or at least struggle to comprehend why he continues to enjoy so much support and admiration (albeit not universal acclaim) after the disastrous episodes that have punctured his decade-long first-class cricket career.
Plenty of stories have aired and been penned over Ryder's misdemeanours, often with a sense of righteous indignation such as this from Andrew Alderson: "[It's] hard to believe a character with such a renowned disruptive influence could be picked. New Zealand can't afford to condone the erratic behaviour of a rebel without a cause."
Out here in the real world we like the occasional rebel without a cause, but one out of the first eleven is probably enough. Get well soon Jesse, we want to see you back.
I'm a cult hero
A dream come true
You want to touch me
But you can't get through
I walk on water and I don't get wet
I've got something you won't forget
I'm a cult hero, paid my dues
I'm a cult hero, got nothing to lose
("I'm a Cult Hero" - The Cure)
Paul Ford is a co-founder of the Beige Brigade. He tweets here