Cairns makes hay with English complacency

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Chris Cairns is the birthday boy. He is 34 today; he is playing his 62nd and last Test at a ground he calls his second home, and he is capable of doing enough to win it for New Zealand, with ball and bat.

Chris Cairns is the birthday boy. He is 34 today; he is playing his 62nd and last Test at a ground he calls his second home, and he is capable of doing enough to win it for New Zealand, with ball and bat.

The rash of injuries to his team's front-line bowlers have forced him to play a leading role in this Test when he had effectively retired to play character parts. This morning, if he gets going with the bat, his team are capable of setting England a target well beyond 300 to win.

Last night he made clear his determination not to fall victim to careless shot- selection, asin the first innings - but he remained fatalistic. "Anything is possible," he said.

Yesterday morning he completed his 13th five-wicket haul in Tests, and when he took the last of them at the end of the morning he turned away from his team-mates and saluted his uncle, who has come over from New Zealand and who was sitting in the Radcliffe Stand. After seven seasons with Nottinghamshire, Cairns had plenty of friends there.

Cairns was excited because he had fulfilled his own expectations for this match. His feat with the ball is already inscribed on a board in the pavilion: "That leaves part of me here," he said, and smiled broadly.

But memorable performances are not an end in themselves for Cairns: "They mean so much more when they are part of a collective win," he said. He was taking nothing for granted last night. Nor was Fred Flintoff. As has been the case at the end of every other Saturday of this series, there is everything to play for.

Cairns is a tall man who stands straight. He runs his hands through a shock of dark hair and he exudes a quality he shares with all very good sportsmen: he has the temperament to respond when his team need him most.

New Zealand had lost two front-line bowlers (Shane Bond and Daniel Vettori) before the game began, and lost two more (Chris Martin and Kyle Mills) during England's innings. They have so many all-rounders that there were still four seamers available, but Cairns alone was a Test veteran.

At Lord's and Headingley he came on second or even third change. Before this game, his captain and his coach asked him to open the bowling. He was a little reluctant at first. His pace is not what is was, down from 88mph to below 70mph with some deliveries. But he responds to responsibility. And he likes the fact that the opening bowler gets the new ball, and gets at batsmen straight after a break. He also confessed he might have been holding back in the first two Tests, worrying about injury. "Because this is my last Test, I know I can go a bit harder."

Guile makes up for pace; he talks about accuracy and energy, and his slower ball is a classic. He surprised Michael Vaughan when he was batting so fluently that another memorable Trent Bridge hundred looked inevitable.

But that was the point. Although five England batsmen got to 45, none scored more than 63. That is the evidence of a sudden fall in the will to win, and when New Zealand sensed that, they started to believe in the possibility of an unlikely victory. Stephen Fleming, who had looked semi-detached at Leeds, was suddenly striding about purposefully.

He is an imposing figure, as dark-haired as Cairns, though taller, but he has been disenchanted with the selectors and possibly the coach, John Bracewell. The belief that he is the best captain in international cricket has not survived the series, but yesterday he was back on message and communicating enthusiasm.

New Zealand do not owe it all to Cairns. He shared the attack yesterday morning with James Franklin, a 23-year-old who had had a good first-class season with Wellington but was not included in this ridiculously small squad of 14 players. He took a job as the professional at Rishton in the Lancashire League and has been frank about why. He wanted to be on hand in case of disaster, and when the plague of injuries spread, Franklin was on hand to take his chance; 4 for 104 was a proper reward.

New Zealand's fit bowlers - Cairns, Styris, Oram and Franklin - are all capable of scoring runs. If they do manage to convert a decent performance into a win, the consequences will be intriguing. They will not go into the NatWest Series as losers but as a team of fighters.

England's weakness here may have been subconscious, but they took New Zealand for granted for the first half of the game. Cairns brilliantly undermined that presumption. He will be a grave loss to the Test team, but he is not gone yet.

England's one-day team would be unforgivably rash if they were to repeat the error of the first three days here.