A busy car park at the start of another chilly day at Heathrow. An early morning after a long, long night flight. The bad tempers and bullying of the drivers of the jostling cabs and too important by half executive carriages did nothing for the sense of mind. Loading our bags into the back of the taxi my friend turned to me and said; “Have you heard about Jesse Ryder? He’s in hospital. Badly beaten up outside a nightclub. He’s in a coma in a critical condition.” The news hit me like the icy morning air after five months in the sun.

Jesse Ryder. Beloved of New Zealand cricket fans on account of his precocious ability with the bat. A once-in-a-generation type player who can turn cricket matches on their head as a result of his brilliance. Ryder will never go on to score the hatful of runs of heroes of previous Kiwi cricketing favourites like Glenn Turner or Martin Crowe but, nonetheless, he is a cult hero to this generation.

Ryder is a hero with a darker edge. The darkness of which, probably we’ll never really know or, even less, understand. Thursday’s sickening attack on him hints at, as NZ Prime Minister John Key says, something quite sinister. Perhaps now is the time to stop laughing off the Falstaffian accompaniments to Ryder’s life, the drunkenness, the list of other indiscretions and, for the sake of cricket and for the sake of Jesse too, get him properly rehabilitated.

The fact is, we love our heroes like this. As I read the news of Ryder’s latest difficulties my gaze was drawn to an article on the same web page about footballer Robin Friday, a legend to all who saw him play. The original man who didn’t give a flying one. A life tragically cut short at the relatively tender age of 38, Friday’s genius on the pitch was overshadowed by his life away from the game. Jesse Ryder is 28 and for a man of his unquestioned ability hasn’t, and even more pointedly, is unlikely to, achieve what he should’ve done in cricket.

If the right support isn’t in place for Ryder, there is every chance he might meet the same fate as befell Friday. Films, video clips, t-shirts and records dedicated to him long after his death. Great for fans of tomorrow’s nostalgia and those seeking a paladin for the self-destructive rebel but of scant use to the man himself or his family and friends.

New Zealand cricket, no, world cricket needs Jesse Ryder. Speaking to Kiwi cricket fans at various points over the last month or so, Ryder is held in great esteem there. His inclusion in the Black Caps line up could have spelt even more trouble for England in the recently completed Test Series because there are few like him on the global stage with the powers to take a game away as quickly and as ruthlessly from the opposition as Jesse Ryder. The upcoming Indian Premier League will be a poorer place for his absence too.

Reports this morning feature heartening news on Ryder’s condition. It is expected he will make a recovery. The recuperation process begins now. And it is up to Cricket New Zealand to get properly behind one of its heroes as cricket fans, local and worldwide, undoubtedly will.

Get well soon Jesse.

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