Jesse Ryder's punishment for drinking while on injury list deflects real issue, which is below par performance of Black Caps.
New Zealand blow 'socialising' of injured Jesse Ryder out of proportion
Defeated 2-1 in the Twenty20s and blanked 3-0 in the one-day internationals, the discussions among the Kiwi fans should have logically centred on their team's disappointing performance.
Instead, the perpetual bad boy Jesse Ryder has stepped in to grab the headlines and the heat, bearing the brunt of the ire on his bulky shoulders.
His fault? Ryder, and teammate Doug Bracewell, decided to have a few drinks after the second ODI in Napier. Both were recovering from injuries and their actions went against team protocol, which dictates injured players should not drink between matches.
Punishment was swift and they were dropped for Saturday's third and final ODI. Ryder has also missed out on selection to the Test team, presumably because of his poor tour of Australia.
The incident, according to media reports, was a minor one and the two players were not "heavily intoxicated" but, like Andrew Flintoff and his pedalo episode at the 2007 World Cup, they have become a convenient excuse for an establishment that has been struggling to explain the team's deteriorating standards.
"From our point of view, we'd just suffered another tough loss, our fourth in a row, and it certainly wasn't the time to be out socialising and being seen in public drinking," Brendon McCullum, the New Zealand captain.
"There's obviously some contractual obligations which need to be met along the way, which Jesse isn't meeting at this stage, and I'm sure there'll be some intense discussions between Jesse's people and New Zealand Cricket around that contractual stuff."
Both those comments seem a bit amiss. Ryder did not break any contractual obligations. There was no code of conduct breach and it was the team management who decided to drop him for not following team protocols.
If that was not a "time to be out socialising", then Tarun Nethula was also drinking with the pair, but he did not breach the team protocol because he was not on the injured list. So, in simpler terms, Ryder is a victim of his own reputation, languishing in a bed he has made for himself.
His problems with alcohol have been well documented and, despite his vows to become a teetotaller after an incident in 2009, he was back at it a few months later during the Indian Premier League.
Ryder's latest indiscretion could not have come at a better time for McCullum and his team. The Black Caps have been simply outclassed by South Africa and their chances in the three-match Test series are not looking any better.
Even Graeme Smith's pre-series taunt about New Zealand not being a "real cricketing nation" has failed to awaken their pride.
"Last time we were there, their training facilities weren't as good as in real cricketing nations," said the South Africa captain, adding: "You're playing largely on rugby fields; drop-in wickets most of the time."
That sort of a reputation does more harm to New Zealand cricket than any individual exigency. Given the fish bowl life of a modern cricketer, there are bound to be a few controversies. Some of the game's greatest, from Sir Garfield Sobers to David Boon, must be thankful they lived in a different era.
Ryder, 27, is an immensely talented batsman and to deliver on his promise, he needs people to accept him for what he is, with all his intricacies and idiosyncrasies.
As Mark Richardson, the former New Zealand cricketer, said: "If he'd just gone out drinking and got in a bit of an altercation, but he scored runs, I'd probably still pick him because that's what comes with Jesse Ryder."