Cairns' last stand lights up Lord's with joyous mix of skill and power of power and finesse

Chris Cairns, starting his last series for New Zealand, took this first Test match by the ears and gave it a glorious shake for just over an hour on the second morning yesterday. In a match which was becoming submerged by the monotonous seam bowlers of both sides, Cairns strode out of the pavilion and for 61 minutes played an innings that will be spoken of for many years.

Chris Cairns, starting his last series for New Zealand, took this first Test match by the ears and gave it a glorious shake for just over an hour on the second morning yesterday. In a match which was becoming submerged by the monotonous seam bowlers of both sides, Cairns strode out of the pavilion and for 61 minutes played an innings that will be spoken of for many years.

He was quickly off the mark before almost perishing when a top edge flew tantalisingly over cover point's head. He then picked up four overthrows when Andrew Strauss tried to throw the stumps down with Cairns out of his ground and no one backing up.

Perhaps these were the spurs Cairns needed, for without further ado he unleashed an astonishing array of strokes which lit up a rather sombre Lord's on a grey and chilly morning.

Wickets had been falling regularly and when Daniel Vettori was ninth man out at 338, Cairns had reached 38. He had played some magnificent strokes as he drove, pulled and square cut with ease and elegance. He has an extraordinary natural sense of timing that lends power but never violence to his strokeplay. Cairns has perhaps been an underrated cricketer and the injuries he has suffered may have had something to do with this.

There is no doubt he is a player tinged with genius. No ordinary mortal could have batted at Lord's as he did when Chris Martin, the last man - who farmed the bowling with skill, including running a frantic bye to the wicketkeeper - joined him.

Steve Harmison, who bowled much better than on Thursday, could only watch in amazement as Cairns made room for himself and drove him over cover's head into the bottom of the Tavern Stand for six. When Andrew Flintoff bowled short, Cairns swivelled and pulled him fiercely, almost on to the scoreboard on the St John's Wood Road side of the ground. This stroke brought him his 86th six in Test cricket, enabling him to beat Viv Richards's record of 85.

After that he made room for himself exactly in the fashion of Richards and drove Flintoff over extra cover for six. It was then Simon Jones's turn to suffer and when he pitched short Cairns again pulled almost effortlessly and sent the ball away square for yet another six. These sixes were interspersed with other lovely strokes that brought him 10 fours besides.

They were all shots which would have found their way into the art gallery of the game. They were pure cricket strokes and Cairns never resorted to crude slogging. Very few batsmen in the history of the game have been blessed with the ability to bat as he did here.

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