Despite New Zealand's top-order tumbling for the second time in successive matches, Brendon McCullum treaded carefully when asked to consider whether it may be time to recall Jesse Ryder. The explosive opener scored 136 off 57 for Otago against Ireland in Tuesday, to contrast starkly with Martin Guptill and Jimmy Neesham's scores of 11 and 10 respectively against South Africa in the second ODI, but McCullum emphasised that the right character, rather than just runs, will be the only way for Ryder to be reconsidered.
"We will not compromise the team dynamic," was as close as McCullum got to saying Ryder needs to show maturity, commitment and discipline before he will get another look in. "There's lots of cards that need to fit into place before he can be back in the side. We know how good the team dynamic is when we get ourselves into form and get the ship rolling, and Jesse is aware of that. The environment is the most important thing," McCullum said.
Ryder has not played for New Zealand since their ODI series win over India in January. The following month, he was dropped from the Test side after a late-night drinking session, an incident which also cost him his spot in the World T20 squad.
That was the last in a long line of indiscretions which have seen Ryder banned for six-months for failing doping test, fined for breaking his bat over a chair in a Champions Trophy game in 2009 and missing Test matches against England in 2008 after severing tendons in his arm while trying to break into a locked toilet. Those incidents stained New Zealand cricket and McCullum does not want to see any recurrence. "The impact that distractions can have on other players in the group can't go unnoticed," he said.
Neither can the opposite - the sense of togetherness and calm that permeates in the absence of any disruption - and McCullum indicated New Zealand have been enjoying enough of that to be wary of bringing Ryder back. "We've got to make sure Jesse is really desperate to play for New Zealand and make sure he fits within the group. He is well aware of that. Let's hope he is desperate to come back and the environment is ready for him," he said. "That doesn't mean it's going to happen now, it may not happen this summer. It's not the right thing by him to try and rush him back in, and it's not the right thing by the environment."
What McCullum wants from Ryder is consistency, not with bat in hand because he showed plenty of that at Essex but in mindset terms. "I want people who are desperate to represent their country in the team. We won't compromise the environment because we are representing our country and there are certain obligations which you need to uphold out of respect for the people who support this team and the positions we hold within this group.
"Jesse knows he has got some work to do. He is an undoubted talent and if he can get himself right, he is scoring runs and obviously a vacancy is there and the group is ready for him, then I see no reason why he can't come back but until that happens, we'd be trying to push something which is not quite ready. But the lines of communication have been reopened and we will see what happens over the next little while. "
As far as an opening for Ryder goes, even that may be tricky. McCullum admitted that missing Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor in this series is hurting the team, but once they're back things should work out better. "When you take your No. 3 and No. 4 out of any team in the world, you will be exposed a little more than we would be if those guys were there," he said. "And we're lacking a little bit of match hardness. You develop that as you get used to playing. I hoped that we'd be able to find that pretty quickly but we haven't been able to. We know we have got good players and we know that our game plan works, we just have to be able to execute it."
Again, Luke Ronchi was the only player able to put up resistance and McCullum has urged the rest of his men to learn from their No. 7 for Monday's dead rubber. "Luke is a guy that it doesn't matter what time of year it is, he is going to go out, see the ball and react to what he is given. It was a good lesson for the rest of us as well that you can trust your game, stick to your processes and go about your work. He is such a vital player in that No. 7 position for us as well. That bodes well for the rest of the summer."