WELLINGTON, Oct 20 (Reuters) - Batsman Jesse Ryder will return to top-level cricket in New Zealand next week, ready to put behind him a year in which he served a six-month doping ban and survived an assault that left him in a coma with serious head injuries.
The 29-year-old, who had been in self-imposed exile from the New Zealand team following another breach of team discipline, makes his return to the field for his new first-class side Otago against his former team Wellington next week.
"After this year, you could probably say that I've been through the worst things you could go through, for my career at least anyway," Ryder told Fairfax Media on Sunday.
"The drug thing, that could have been my career over if I'd been given a two-year ban, which had been a possibility. Then with what happened in Christchurch, that too could have easily been the end of it for my career.
"I wouldn't look at it like I've been given a second chance at life. I'm just lucky, I guess."
Ryder spent almost a week in hospital in late March after an incident outside a Christchurch bar left him with a fractured skull and rib injuries. He was kept in an induced coma for more than two days.
While he was recovering from the assault, he was informed he had tested positive for two stimulants which are banned in competition and handed a six-month provisional ban on April 19.
Ryder said he had checked the weight-loss supplement on the Internet and sought advice, a fact that New Zealand's top anti-doping authority, Drug Free Sport NZ, took into consideration when imposing a six-month ban rather than a two-year penalty.
"You do all the research and you find there is nothing wrong with the product. The one mistake I made was that I didn't ask Drug Free Sport New Zealand about the product," he added.
"But if I had asked them, they would have basically said they couldn't find anything wrong with the product but that taking it could be a risk."
Ryder's biggest battle, however, had been recovering from the injuries he sustained in March. He had initially found it difficult to exert himself and was still forgetting things, though he also noted that he was lucky to be alive.
"At first, I just couldn't walk properly. My balance was just so off and I was struggling to walk and the weakness was crazy," said Ryder, who indicated he would like to return to the New Zealand side one day.
"Just walking to the bathroom and back, I'd be breathless, you know, taking in big, deep breaths.
"It took ages to get back to normal.
"After being told what happened, you start thinking a bit. I mean, we've all heard the stories of guys hitting their heads and dying after being punched and falling to the ground.
"I look back and think I am lucky not to be dead." (Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Peter Rutherford)