This was no ordinary series for Jesse Ryder, who was on notice before it began. One more disciplinary offence and he would be out. For a man living his last chance, he has not done badly at all.
This was Ryder's first series after his latest trouble with alcohol and a shoulder injury. This was a home series against the most-watched team in the world. This series came just after his IPL signing which, like it or not, has become a big stage. Ryder needed to get through this series with a clean record and good performances to back up the sobriety.
An average of 56.25, a strike-rate of over 100, and the most runs for his side will please both him and his side.
Ryder is not your everyday cricketer. On the ratio of natural talent to hard work, he relies heavily on the side of talent. But he also has a paunch to match his talent. He has missed his share of cricket for fitness problems. Outsiders may enjoy rooting for one who doesn't fit the typecast of an athlete but it puts Ryder under extra pressure to keep up with the modern game. So he chips in with the ball as well. His flamboyant batting, the smooth, natural, cricketing shots, should be beyond doubt after the Christchurch century anyway.
Coming into a match, where his side needed to prove its "credibility", Ryder showed the best of both abilities. "It was a big game for him and he did everything that was asked for him," Daniel Vettori said. "It was probably not usual for Jess to come in and bowl so early. But he hit the right areas and got the ball to do a bit." His job was made easier by the double-strike from Jacob Oram, but the middle overs was still an area New Zealand needed to improve on. Ryder found the pitch to his liking, got some movement from it, and looked to take wickets rather than contain.
Yuvraj's wicket was a just reward for bowling wicket-taking lengths, the ball moving away from a perfect left-hand batsman's line. Mahendra Singh Dhoni tried to upset him by walking down the pitch and to the off side time and again. Dhoni succeeded for a while as the keeper came up, and the length automatically shortened. But Ryder pushed Peter McGlashan back, and went back to bowling fuller lengths. Twice or thrice Dhoni walked down again but Ryder stayed cool. Finally he bowled Dhoni with one that moved in. Defensive is not Ryder's style.
Ishant Sharma will have first-hand knowledge of the aggression. He was hit for a short-arm pull that evokes Sanath Jaysuirya and also shows just why New Zealand Cricket has persisted with Ryder. The ball was not there for the pull, but he saw it early, the wrists turned fast, and he cleared the midwicket fielder. Three other pulls went for huge sixes.
One of them enraged Ishant but Ryder didn't back off. Words were exchanged, Ishant got an extended spell, and was launched to the same spot again - only this one went even further. While Zaheer Khan got the respect, Praveen Kumar also felt the power of his wrists. By the way Ryder said later he is still trying to under-hit the ball and spend more time in the middle. Oh well.
It would have been easy for Ryder to fall into a defensive mode, especially when he saw Brendon McCullum's bail fly to the third-man boundary and Martin Guptill play and miss a few. But Ryder took the adventurous route minus the risks. There was no slogging in his innings just as there wasn't any in Christchurch, where his performance more often than not would have ended up on the winning side's.
The New Zealand bowlers had looked innocuous coming into this match and their batsmen - even while batting first - were always trying to catch up. They needed some positives from the series, something special to go into the Tests with confidence.
In the end they not only beat India, but outplayed them. Especially pleasing will be the fact that it was set up by their biggest gain of the series.