India have a mountain to climb

In an old edition of the Napier Boys High School’s in-house magazine,one of Jesse Ryder’s team mates had made a prediction about the cricketer...

Written by Sandeep Dwivedi | Napier | Published: March 28, 2009 11:28 pm

In an old edition of the Napier Boys High School’s in-house magazine,one of Jesse Ryder’s team mates had made a prediction about the cricketer: “Jesse is a player who we will almost certainly see at the highest levels in the not-too-distant future.” Somewhere in Napier,that particular friend of Ryder’s would have been strutting around with a told-you-so smile on his face.

Ryder’s innings of 201 has changed a lot of things,besides reconfirming the fact that the India-New Zealand series,irrespective of the result,will be remembered as the launching pad for a precocious batting talent. Ryder has helped the Kiwis rediscover their famous fighting spirit; almost single-handedly,he has stopped the intimidating march of the all-conquering visitors; he has made India look unimaginative on the field and kept local interest in the series alive.

And,as was evident in the post-match press conference,he has broken the myth that Ryder press conferences are drab affairs. Despite the Forrest Gumpish sing-song tone,uncomplicated thoughts about his no-fuss batting and colourful life off the field,Ryder had generally been a man of few words. But now,the dull monologues have turned into smart one-liners. Asked if,considering his current form,the $1.6m deal with Bangalore Royal Challengers was daylight robbery,Ryder broke into a broad smile: “I will take that.” Brendon McCullum,sitting next to him,burst out laughing.

Right since play began in Napier,Ryder has given his team mates something to celebrate,an innings that has lifted the pall of gloom that had descended after the humiliation in Hamilton.

At the end of the second day,New Zealand had India in a fair bit of trouble at 79 for three. Virender Sehwag had been out-foxed by Daniel Vettori for a 25-ball 34,Gautam Gambhir lost his cool and his wicket for 16,while night-watchman Ishant Sharma fell leg-before to the Kiwi skipper in the second-last over of the day.

The final hour of play,where Vettori looked especially threatening,had tilted the match heavily in New Zealand’s favour; but the groundwork had been on for five-and-a-half sessions before that.

Making India pay

On a pitch that offers little assistance to bowlers after the first hour,and with short,square boundaries,a Ryder-like batsman can be a nightmare for captains. One big partnership here can turn the game around and,through his own knock,Ryder ensured there were several big associations.

Zaheer Khan admitted to frustration at the end of the day. “We’ve given it everything we’ve got. As a bowling unit,we’ve tried everything,” he said. “Obviously,Jesse Ryder played well and the double-hundred was a big plus for them. A lot of runs have been scored in boundaries. It’s difficult to stop boundaries here and that’s frustrating for fast bowlers.”

It was one such boundary off Zaheer that saw Ryder reach his double. But even as the locals applauded,they will hope these are signs of better things to come for the man who has had his share of nightmares.

Perceptions are already changing. The assistant head-master of Napier Boys High School,Bruce Smith,endorses that. “He comes to the school and hits balls with the kids. He also came once to present some awards at the school assembly. For the cricketers in particular,he is a role model,” says Smith,who talks fondly of the batting prodigy who made it to the school team when he was just nine.

Ryder,meanwhile,is enjoying his dream run. “I can’t ask for anything more at this stage of my career. It has been quite sensational.” It certainly has been.

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