England v New Zealand, 3rd Test, Trent Bridge, 4th day June 13, 2004

A powerful cat among pigeons

The Wisden Verdict by Emma John

Chris Cairns: cruelly dumped by the birthday fairy © Getty Images

"There's another fine mess you've got us out of." That's what I like to imagine Ashley Giles said to Graham Thorpe when they hugged mid-pitch, Thorpe having fired a four through backward square to bring up his hundred and take England within 20 runs of victory. England have ridden their luck like theme-park thrill-seekers in this match, but Thorpe has been the responsible adult accompanying them.

A few of England's softer scalps may have flattered the New Zealand bowlers, but Thorpe never looked anything other than what he was - a sleek, savvy, powerful cat among pigeons. He didn't need to temper his aggression, as his final partnership of 70 from 84 with Ashley Giles proved. He simply kept the Kiwi bowlers, Jacob Oram and James Franklin especially, disordered. Wherever they placed fielders, Thorpe's laser-guided drives and cuts could find a gap. He was in charge, and he let them know it.

This game has had more twists and turns than a month-old tube of toothpaste. The thought that, by the end of the day's scheduled play, England would be claiming an extra half-hour to finish the match off was scarcely conceivable at lunch, when they were floundering at 23 for 2. And yet there was something familiar about this victory. The fourth-day counter-attack from England, initiated here by their bowling in the morning, has played a key part in every match of this three-Test whitewash.

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.

Emma John is deputy editor of The Wisden Cricketer.