Troubled New Zealand cricketer Jesse Ryder was in a critical condition in hospital yesterday after an "extremely vicious" attack as he left a bar in Christchurch.
The 28-year-old was in an induced coma with a fractured skull and serious internal injuries.
The attack came just days before the talented batsman was to take up a lucrative Indian Premier League (IPL) contract.
Ryder has a history of disciplinary lapses and alcohol-related incidents, but although he had been drinking before the early-morning assault, police said alcohol was not a factor.
Detective senior sergeant Brian Archer said there was a brief altercation involving Ryder and "two or three" people when he stepped outside the bar.
Ryder then crossed the road to a nearby fast-food outlet where he was attacked.
Police believed there were at least 10 witnesses, one of whom, Emma-Louise Ferguson, told the New Zealand Herald it was "unbelievably brutal".
"They had him on the ground and they were kicking him hard," she said, adding: "It was literally right outside the door of the bar.
"When he was on the ground, I couldn't actually see him but I could hear the they were kicking him as hard as they could."
Media reports said the injuries included a punctured lung.
New Zealand Prime Minister John Key, who led messages of support for Ryder, said the attack appeared "somewhat unprovoked, so there must be something behind the extremely vicious" assault.
"Obviously we wish him a speedy recovery," he added.
A witness, identified only as Adam, said that Ryder tried to fight back as four men "absolutely smashed him".
The incident occurred while Ryder was having a night out with his Wellington teammates after earlier losing a season-ending one-day match to Canterbury.
The batsman is on a self-imposed break from international cricket to address "personal issues" following a series of incidents.
Ryder, who last played for New Zealand a year ago, was due to fly to India this weekend to compete for the Delhi Daredevils, who paid US$260,000 for his services at an auction.
In 2004, former Australian batsman David Hookes died from head injuries suffered in a fight outside a bar in Melbourne.