Jan 042013

New Zealand cricketer Jesse Ryder has begun 2013 by challenging Andrew Flintoff to be the second opponent of his own fledgling boxing career.

Flintoff won his first bout as a heavyweight in November, getting a points decision against American Richard Dawson in Manchester despite being sent to the canvas in the second round.

Ryder, meanwhile, won his first by technical knockout in under two minutes in July, beating sports radio host Mark Watson in Auckland.

Now the big-hitting Kiwi, who has been in stunning form for Wellington in New Zealand’s domestic cricket competition since resuming his cricket career, is after another chance to step into the ring – and has Flintoff in his sights.

“My people have been in touch with Freddie to try and set up a fight,” said Ryder. “I’m keen to get in the ring again so hopefully it will be possible to try and get that on. It depends on timing but having a fight between the Test matches (England travel to New Zealand for a three-Test tour next month) and getting the Barmy Army involved would be great.

“Freddie looked in good shape, he had obviously done a lot of work before his own fight. Between us we must have shed a lot of weight.”

The pounds may have fallen off both wannabe pugilists but the pairs’ entry into the professional boxing arena drew heavy criticism from those inside the sport. Frank Maloney described the decision to award Flintoff a boxing licence as “a joke” and labelled his debut “a TV stunt”.

Those claims were dismissed by the former England captain but a bout against Ryder would encourage more criticism. It might also have pay-per-view television channels salivating.

“From a promoter’s perspective a bout needs to be marketable, as typically a fight like Ryder v Flintoff will be on the undercard of a professional bout,” says Ryder’s manager Aaron Klee. “Most boxing pundits wouldn’t pay to watch but it pulls in others who wouldn’t normally watch.”

Ryder has had to fight his own demons since making his international debut for the Black Caps against England in a one-day international in February 2008.

A series of high-profile scrapes and a battle against the booze means the IPL player – who appeared alongside Kevin Pietersen for Bangalore Royal Challengers in 2009 – has rarely been far from the headlines.

His most recent Test cap came against Australia in December 2011 and he has not represented his country since a drinking incident with team-mate Doug Bracewell after a one-day international against South Africa in Napier last March.

With England’s tour against New Zealand looming, however, he believes that boxing has instilled a sense of discipline that has been previously been lacking.

“I’m so much fitter than I was,” he says. “I’ve come on heaps. I put in months and months of hard work and it’s paying dividends. I’m back bowling and I haven’t picked up any other niggles.

“I haven’t really missed international cricket, if anything I’ve really enjoyed my time away. It has probably been the best thing for me. A lot went on during that South Africa series that got to me. Boxing has given me something else to focus on.”

His recall to international colours might not be far away, particularly after New Zealand were trounced by an innings and 27 runs by South Africa in Cape Town – the latest in a series of dismal performances for England’s next opponents.

“There’s a lot going on [with New Zealand cricket] at the moment,” says Ryder. “From the outside looking in it’s pretty disappointing what’s happening.”

The Kiwis current Test series appears to be one of world cricket’s biggest mismatches – a heavyweight bout between Ryder and Flintoff could be anything but.

Fighting cricketers: Stumped in the ring

Johnnie Douglas led England to Ashes success against Australia before the First World War, and also won a gold medal as a middleweight boxer at the 1908 Olympics, beating Reginald “Snowy” Baker, of Australia – who also competed at springboard diving at the same Games in London – on points.

Former umpire and Somerset cricketer Bill Alley began his sporting career as a professional boxer back in Australia in the 1940s, remaining undefeated in 28 fights at welterweight. He had to give up boxing after being hit in the head during a net session, but before then refused to participate in a fight when, he said, he was ordered to “lie down” by “the betting boys”.

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