New Zealand cricketer Jesse Ryder is in a critical condition after being attacked by three men outside a bar in the South Island city of Christchurch, police have confirmed.
Ryder is lying in an induced coma in Christchurch Hospital, having been admitted to the ICU with a fractured skull and collapsed lung following the assault.
Detective Senior Sergeant Brian Archer said the attack took place when Ryder left Aikman's Bar in Merivale at midnight. Three men waiting outside the bar attacked the cricketer from behind.
Ryder managed to escape the initial blows by crossing the road and reaching the entrance to McDonald's on the opposite side. But there he was attacked again by one of the men, leaving him with grievous injuries.
The assailants have not yet been identified by the police. Detective Archer said they were assessing the CCTV footage installed at the location and speaking to eyewitnesses.
"I don't know the background to what caused this incident and that's what we are focusing on now to understand why this took place," Archer said at a press conference.
The police have confirmed that the attack was not alcohol-related.
Shirt ripped apart
Emma Ferguson, one of the witnesses, told ONE News that Ryder was pummelled to the floor by his attackers, adding that the cricketer was beaten up for about ten seconds before his friends came to his rescue. She said there was a lot of blood on the road and that the cricketer's shirt was ripped apart.
Bar owner Steve Holmes said he reviewed the CCTV footage which showed that Ryder was leaving the pub before one of the attackers called him back. They started out having a friendly conversation but later began arguing.
It was then that two men attacked Ryder outside the bar from behind, Holmes said.
Although it is not known if Ryder had consumed alcohol with his Wellington Firebirds teammates before the incident took place, Peter Clinton, of Cricket Wellington, appeared to distance his team from the attack.
Clinton said: "There are some alcohol protocols around the team and my understanding of the events is those protocols were being met. So from the organisation's point of view we don't have any concerns that Jesse was with his team mates last night."
New Zealand Prime Minister John Key condemned the attack and said he was sure the police would get to the bottom of the incident.
New Zealand Cricket CEO David White said: "We are all shocked by what has happened and extremely concerned for Jesse. New Zealand Cricket's thoughts are with him and his family."
Former New Zealand captain Ross Taylor tweeted a message in support of his friend.
Ryder, an opening batsman, has played 18 Tests and 39 One Day Internationals for New Zealand but had been dogged by disciplinary issues, including several alcohol-related incidents.
The hard-hitting left-hander has been censured by New Zealand's cricket management team for arriving at training under the influence of alcohol, and also for a heated argument in a bar in Napier. During England's tour of New Zealand in 2008, he badly cut his hand while trying to forcibly enter a pub toilet in Christchurch.
Ryder is also a keen part-time boxer, having secured a first-round knock-out in his first fight, against local radio presenter Mark Watson last June.
Although he remains on sabbatical from the New Zealand side, Ryder was about to leave for India where he has a £200,000 contract to play for the Delhi Daredevils.