Talented but troubled batsman Jesse Ryder was in an induced coma with critical injuries after a seemingly unprovoked assault just a day before he was due to leave New Zealand for another season in the lucrative Indian Premier League.
Police say they have been unable to establish a motive for a late-night assault outside a bar, which left Ryder critically ill in Christchurch Hospital with a fractured skull and punctured lung.
At a news conference yesterday, Detective Senior Sergeant Brian Archer, of Christchurch Police, said Ryder was attacked twice in quick succession as he left a bar shortly after midnight with team-mates from Wellington who were in Christchurch for a domestic cricket match.
He was first assaulted by “two or three” people outside the bar and was then followed across the road to the car park of a fast food restaurant where the second and more serious assault took place, police said.
Messages of support and hope flooded in from cricketers and fans around the world. The incident has appalled New Zealanders, including Prime Minister John Key. The 28-year-old Ryder has fought a high-profile battle with alcohol and his international career has been punctuated by disciplinary problems.
He has made himself unavailable for the New Zealand team since February, 2012, withdrawing from international cricket to tackle alcohol and fitness issues and other personal problems.
While Ryder hasn’t spoken publicly about those issues, friends say he’d turned his life around in the past 12 months. Police were adamant that, although the Wellington players had been at a licensed premises during the evening, there was no evidence at this stage to suggest that alcohol was a contributing factor to the assault.
The New Zealand media quoted witnesses as saying the assault on Ryder appeared to be unprovoked and one described the incident as a “Jesse-hate fight”.
Archer said police had interviewed witnesses and were investigating. “We believe at least ten or more people have witnessed some of the events,” he said.
Police had established what they believe was the sequence of events around the assaults, Archer said. “An altercation has taken place on the footpath outside Aikman’s [bar] involving Jesse and a group of at least two other males,” he said. “The altercation was brief.”
Archer said following that incident, Ryder and two other people walked toward a McDonald’s restaurant where some of his team-mates had been buying food. “A second altercation has taken place at the entrance to the McDonald’s car park, involving one of the males from the earlier group,” he said. “In that incident, it appears Jesse has been the victim of a serious assault and has suffered head injuries as a result.
“The hospital advises that Jesse is in a critical condition. He is in an induced coma as a result of suffering multiple injuries. He is still being assessed for a number of injuries and we are not prepared to discuss that any further.”
The New Zealand prime minister was among those who expressed distress at the attack on Ryder. “It sounds quite sinister to me,” Key said. “I mean, the fact that there would be four guys attacking him.”
Initial reports said Ryder was attacked by up to four men but police have since reduced that number.
New Zealand Cricket chief executive David White said in a statement: “We are all shocked by what has occurred and extremely concerned for Jesse.”
The head of the New Zealand Cricket Players’ Association, Heath Mills, flew to Christchurch to be with Ryder and said: “The cricket community’s very shocked at what’s happened to Jesse. He’s obviously in a serious condition. A number of players around the country are in shock, our focus now is on Jesse and his wellbeing.”
Many leading cricketers used Twitter to express their concern for Ryder. The New Zealand team’s official Twitter page said “The whole NZC team’s thoughts are with [Jesse] this morning.
West Indies star Chris Gayle posted in a Twitter message: “Will have Jesse in my prayer. Pray for Jesse. Let’s hope he gets better soon.”
Former England captain Michael Vaughan tweeted: “Devastating news regarding Jesse Ryder.
“Just hope he can pull through. Thoughts are with him and his family.”