Cairns steers New Zealand to heroic victory over India in ICC KnockOut final
How much of a role Chris Cairns will play on New Zealand's forthcoming tour of South Africa remains to be seen, but he did enough in the ICC KnockOut 2000 final against India at the Nairobi Gymkhana Club on Sunday to keep his shares up for some time to come.
Cairns played through the pain of a dodgy right knee - he was only passed fit to play on Saturday - to produce a match-winning 102 not out and steer New Zealand to an heroic victory by four wickets in a nerve-jangling last overs scramble. This on top of an unbroken 10-over spell that put the brakes on India after Saurav Ganguly and Sachin Tendulkar had given their side a flying start.
"This is the greatest ever," Cairns said afterwards. "I've been playing for a few years now - getting pretty old - and this is far and away the greatest moment of my New Zealand career. New Zealand's never got to a final before, let alone won it, so this is just the best."
His knee will be scanned when New Zealand arrive in Johannesburg on Monday, after which a decision will be made on his immediate future, but if he numbed the pain on Sunday night with a few celebratory drinks, who could blame him.
For the first 25 overs of each innings, India seemed to have taken the game away from New Zealand, but on both occasions the Kiwis dragged themselves back into the match.
Ganguly and Tendulkar's opening stand of 141 in 26.3 overs should have set up a total of around 300, but Cairns, Scott Styris and Nathan Astle slowed things up in the middle overs and India failed to kick on.
Ganguly said that India had batted "stupidly" in the closing overs as his side reached 264 for six. But they had them on the board. New Zealand still had to get them.
And although Zaheer Khan bowled erratically during his first three overs, which cost India 30 runs, Venkatesh Prasad nipped out Craig Spearman and Stephen Fleming in his opening burst to prise the door open for India.
For the first 25 overs of their reply, New Zealand kept up with the run rate but in the process, lost wickets and at the halfway stage they were 135 for five. No one had been able to stay long enough to get a stand going, but Chris Harris joined Cairns and the foundations of an outstanding partnership were laid.
They batted together for just over 25 overs and when Harris went for 46 with nine balls of the match remaining, they had put on 122 for the sixth wicket. They had seen the run rate go up to around eight an over, but neither batsman panicked, and it was the Indians who dropped their eyes first.
Cairns was a colossus, picking and choosing his moments to hit. He reckoned that with the Gymkhana Club's short boundaries and another of Andy Atkinson's perfect pitches, the target was always on. "I felt pretty comfortable after we'd bowled," he said. "Two-sixty on a small ground, that's 220 on a normal ground."
But someone had to stay there and get them and in the end it couldn't have been much closer, Cairns getting the winning run with two balls to spare.
For New Zealand, then, a memorable triumph and deserved success. They played determined, gritty cricket throughout the tournament and the mark of the side is the number of times they have had to play catch-up cricket and always come through. This is a very handy one-day team with each member pulling for his team-mates.
If Cairns had not been fit, Paul Wiseman would have played and Fleming gave him a vote of confidence too. "You've got to walk with people you believe in," said Fleming.
Ganguly was understandably disappointed, but he has a young team capable of playing scintillating cricket at times and with three or four world-class players as the backbone. More importantly, this team seems closer together, more of a unit than is often the case with Indian sides. If they are kept together, India could fast become one of the best teams in the world on a consistent basis.