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Cairns brings the curtain down on a fine career

The Paper Round by Liam Brickhill

June 14, 2004

Chris Cairns bows out of Test cricket Getty Images

In a series in which so little had gone New Zealand's way, it appeared as though the gods had scripted the fourth day at Trent Bridge to belong to Chris Cairns. It all seemed to fit it was his 34th birthday, in his 62nd and last Test, at the ground where he played seven seasons of cricket with Nottinghamshire. But it wasn't to be. Another 34-year old, Graham Thorpe, stole the limelight, but the press still had plenty of praise for Cairns, a man who has done so much for New Zealand cricket since making his debut against Australia 15 years ago.

In The Times, Michael Henderson was all praise for Cairns, highlighting his nine wickets in this match, and his explosive innings at Lord's, but he added that for all his achievements, he did not merit a place on the list of all-time greats. "Cairns belongs to the ranks of the very good, which lies one significant rung below the great. Plenty of players have worn a similar badge, and they went quietly into retirement, without expectation of three late cheers," he wrote. "It was jolly decent of Michael Vaughan to recognise that a fellow pro was walking into the sunset, but he should not have bothered with the red carpet.

"Cricketers good enough to make Test hundreds and take five wickets in an innings are rare birds, and now this one has flown," he continued. "A run of injuries prevented him from making the most of his talent but he still enjoyed a fine career and he brought down the curtain with one of his best bowling performances."

Simon Briggs in the Daily Telegraph pointed out that Cairns was not always the easiest man to get along with, adding that not everyone was so gushing about his achievements in the Test arena. "For all his charisma and derring-do, Cairns is the kind of cricketer some people never warm to. Like Chris Lewis, his successor as Nottinghamshire's allrounder, he has tended to attract accusations of shiftlessness and general unfulfilment.. In the moments before the start of this match, his Test epitaph, listeners to the [BBC's] Today programme could still have heard Cairns described as an underachiever by Mike Gatting - a man who averaged two points more with the bat but took 215 fewer Test wickets."

In the The Guardian, Steve James conversely called Cairns "a fine cricketer, respected and liked. That he had earlier managed only one run off 13 balls is immaterial," he said. "He still received two standing ovations. Even for Cairns, a substantial score would have been a surprise. The files of cricketing history are littered with batsmen whose valedictory innings have been brief."

Angus Fraser, who was on the receiving end of Cairns' mighty hitting over the years, wrote in The Independent that Cairns made up for his failure with the bat with one of his best bowling performances. "He has been at his best with the ball," said Fraser. "At Headingley, on a pitch offering far more assistance than this, he was a disappointment. Indeed, if he had bowled as well as this a week ago, New Zealand would have been competing for a series rather than a consolation win here.

"Whilst England celebrated it was hard not have sympathy for Cairns," he added. "Since making his Test debut in 1989, the allrounder has been one of the most exciting players in cricket and his efforts in this match deserved more."

Emma John, deputy editor of the Wisden Cricketer wrote "...But if there's one thing this game will be remembered for, it is a goodbye for a man who's made Trent Bridge his second home. When Chris Cairns, the freshly-minted 34-year-old, walked back to the pavilion this morning with only one run to his name, it looked as if he'd been cruelly dumped by the birthday fairy. She'd flirted with him, sure, when Andrew Strauss had dropped him at short leg on 0, the ball sliding in and out of Strauss's hands like a rejected cashcard. But she was just being a tease; Ashley Giles had saved his best delivery of the series for Cairns, and the Kiwi's grand finale was ruined by a ball that turned from middle, past his defensively prepared bat and on to his off stump.

Or so we thought. But, as someone once said, it ain't over till the fat lad in the replica shirt sings. The ball had scarcely had time to warm Cairns's mighty mitts when he ousted Strauss, and by the end of his second spell he had 4 for 59 from 16 overs, and nine wickets in the match. He said last night that he would bowl every over in the innings if he could. If New Zealand had had a Cairns at either end, England would never have made it."