Richard Gillis, Irish Times
Not a ball was bowled in Ireland's two Friends Provident games over the weekend, but there's no shortage of talking points. Most notable of these is the non-appearance of Jesse Ryder.
On Sunday morning, the Oval's security man says, ‘You won't be doing much today,' as he hands me a press pass. He's got a point. As I walk through the Alec Stewart Gates I see the covers on the square covered in puddles; they could grow rice on the outfield. No chance of play, although the final decision is delayed until 3pm. A man with medieval teeth approaches and demands an Ireland cricket handbook. 'I need to update my records,' he says, spraying me with pickled onion Monster Munch.
Over in the players dressing room there's disquiet in the camp. Ryder, a 22 year old batsman from New Zealand, has not shown up. As the team left their south London hotel to come to the game, he sent a text message to coach Phil Simmons. It said he'd missed his 6.30am flight from Liverpool. No further communication has since been forthcoming. No calls, texts messages, no emails. Pretty shoddy.
Ryder is (was) being paid in the region of 1000 euros a game by the ICU to play eight Friends Provident Trophy matches (he was contracted after the first game against Kent). In his two innings for Ireland he scored 1 and 2. He bowled two overs for 14 runs against Gloucestershire at Clontarf before being taken off by captain Trent Johnston. Tellingly, he wasn't offered the ball in the second game against Essex on the same ground.
In addition to his Ireland commitments, Ryder is paid to play for a Liverpool club side, East Brighton, on Saturdays. The ICU had originally asked him to get a train down. This request was declined and a ticket for £174 was booked. He never used it.
The journey from the Oval to Hove on the south coast is about an hour. If anything the weather is even worse. The wind from the sea blows hard and the temperature plummets.
On the far side of the ground, the tricolour was spread across the Brighton and Hove Irish Society's hospitality tent. The public announcer invites the handful of spectators at the ground to ‘Guinness and Irish dancing - buy three pints and get one free'.
Still no sign of Mr Ryder. I ring his agent, Rich Hudson, the man who had touted Ryder to the ICU a few weeks ago and through whom the deal had been struck for his services. Hudson works for Athletes1, an agency that represents other cricketers including Shoaib Akhtar, Mark Butcher and Graham Thorpe. The excuse for Ryder's no show has changed.
'Jesse had a bad back,' said Hudson, who described his commercial relationship with the player as ‘just helping him out with a few things'.
By now Phil Simmons is understandably furious.
'I don't think he'll play for Ireland again," says the coach. 'It is not acceptable. If he missed one flight then he should be on the next one.'
Oddly, twenty hours before, Ryder had given an interview to New Zealand's Sunday News, in which he said he wanted to play for England. Both Ryder's grandfathers are from England, and his father holds a British passport, meaning he could qualify to play in the County Championship and potentially represent the national team.
He said he was ‘sick' of playing for New Zealand A. 'It didn't go down well,' he added, 'I had a few phone calls'.
His agent suggested that the quotes were ‘misconstrued' and that journalists had twisted the meaning of the interview.
However, the player's fitness and commitment have been under a cloud even before he pulled on the green shirt. Kiwi coach John Bracewell criticised his fitness during his team's last tour of Australia.
More importantly, it leaves Ireland short of experience for the last two games of the campaign, against Middlesex and Glamorgan, both at home.
"I haven't ruled out bringing in someone else for the final two games,' said Simmons last night. 'I have to establish what has happened this weekend before we make any announcements'.
Suggestions yesterday were that Nathan Astle, the former New Zealand test player is high on the coach's wish list.
The PA announces what everybody knew, that play was to be abandoned for the day. The players made their way to the Irish tent and talked to the ex pats and their kids. Photos were taken and a bottle of champagne, originally planned for the Irish man of the match, is instead given to Laura, the team's stand in physio.
Behind the tent, in a woolly hat and several sweaters, Peter Gillespie plays cricket with the local kids who had stayed to get autographs. It made their day. Can't see Jesse Ryder ever doing that.