Ryder lets New Zealand down
Just as New Zealand were showing signs of turning a bedraggled few seasons around, momentum has been lost with news that Jesse Ryder and Doug Bracewell have been dropped for at least one match after a night out in Napier turned sour.
The New Zealand management reprimanded the pair after the second one-day international against South Africa in Napier for breaking team protocol (players rehabilitating from injury should not consume alcohol). Both went to a Napier hotel despite Bracewell receiving treatment for a tight hamstring and Ryder splitting the webbing on his hand. According to a statement from the team manager Mike Sandle, the pair responded to taunts from a member of the public. The players claim they were goaded and didn't allow the situation to escalate past a short exchange of words.
More facts will be needed before a balanced judgment can be made but there is no doubt such an incident can derail team spirit and the bond with fans which has built steadily since New Zealand's Test victory over Australia in Hobart.
Unfortunately for New Zealand, it also indicates that fragility and vulnerability are emerging against a South African team that is getting stronger as the length of matches increase.
However this incident is spun, it seems no coincidence that Ryder was at its heart. This could well be another Groundhog Day ending in a soft punishment but there is genuine concern in the squad about his vehement refusal to improve his behaviour. Ryder was once treated as a roguish anti-hero by sections of the public after the 'digits through the dunny window' episode in Christchurch four years ago. Further form on his rap sheet has turned patience to pity and sometimes anger. There is frustration at his refusal to acknowledge a wider problem; be it the makings of alcoholism or a penchant for binge drinking. As anecdotal evidence it is worth noting his excellent half-century - albeit with a stagger at the end - which took New Zealand close to victory in the final Twenty20 received a less than glowing reaction from some quarters of the crowd.
Ryder was going to be in consideration for the Test squad but this incident makes that prospect far-fetched, given his past indiscretions. He needs further help and that might start with more visits to boxing trainer Billy Graham's gym in the Wellington suburb of Naenae. With a Test series as important as South Africa starting next week 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.
Given it is Bracewell's first official blemish in the New Zealand environment, he will likely get a reprieve but he needs to watch himself. No one is bigger than the game. His heroic acts with the ball in Tests in Zimbabwe and Australia have been tempered by seven limited-overs matches back home, where he has scored nine runs in four innings and taken four wickets at 60.50.
Writing about Ryder and Bracewell's indiscretions could be labelled hypocrisy for anyone who has endured experiences such as waking up beneath a shrub on a random street; or found a phantom 3am kebab shop receipt in a grease-stained pocket when stirring on a mate's couch. But there is a difference - they are public figures and national representatives. They don't have to be role models - and may well be victims of their own success - but that argument gets little sympathy from those who toil week-to-week on the nation's cricket fields for the love of the game and little representative or monetary reward.
Andrew Alderson is cricket writer at New Zealand's Herald on Sunday