Cricket: Cairns fear factor left behind

By Dylan Cleaver

There is a time and place for being "cute". With a bit of luck John Bracewell, Sir Richard Hadlee, Glenn Turner and Dion Nash have learned that around the selection table is not one of those places; just prior to a tour of South Africa is not one of those times.

The Black Caps, normally a fine one-day unit, have looked strangely impotent so far in the Republic losing two from two - matches they should not have lost.

It's a tough place to play; even tougher when you leave your most dangerous player at home.

Many of their early woes can be put down to the absence of Chris Cairns. Without him, they have lost the fear factor.

The selectors were not completely unjustified in their decision to drop Cairns, just completely unwise. By his own admission he was a liability in Zimbabwe - but then again so was Hamish Marshall.

The selectors wanted to send him a message. Great. Send him a message. He has a cellphone so send him a text, it'll save on stamps.

"CC. We r not :-) with yr form & think u shd play more crkt or u mite not make the WC in 07. Yrs, John, Rich, Dion & Glenn :-(," the message could have read.

If they suspected, outside of electro-shock therapy, dropping Cairns was the only way to get the message through, then why didn't they do it before the Zimbabwe tour, a tour when his absence would not hurt the team.

Cairns is apparently training the house down in Christchurch but that can only be of cold comfort to Stephen Fleming, whom one suspects would prefer him slightly closer to Port Elizabeth than the Port Hills.

Dropping him without adequate cover is just dumb: chopping off your allrounder to spite your team.

Sure, if Jacob Oram was in anything like the form he was before he injured his back then go for it, but his ability to bowl effectively is under scrutiny. If Scott Styris was anything like the form he was in, well, quite some time ago, then maybe. But in a team that is looking increasingly thin in the match-winning department, it reeks of kidology.

Cairns vintage '05 is just as much about implied threat as it is results, which have been, in fairness to him, unflattering at best.

But opposition still fear him. They manipulate their bowlers to try and ensure soft targets are not bowling when he comes to the crease. He still has a few useful overs in him each innings (without the burdens of test cricket he should have 10 overs in him and, if not, this is where it's right for selectors to question his fitness).

There is something self-defeating in this whole issue.

Cairns wants to go to the World Cup and curtailed his test and first-class career to prolong his one-day career. Then he gets caught, figuratively speaking, with his pants down and no doubt realises, as Bracewell has suspected for some time and has previously flagged, that less in this case is certainly not more.

So the selectors' answer is to give him even less competitive cricket.

If you are looking at this through neutral eyes, and it must be pointed out that Chris Cairns has a sometime association with this newspaper as a columnist, you must surely reach one of two conclusions: the selectors think Christchurch club cricket and early season first-class cricket played invariably on dodgy wickets is a more appropriate build-up to the Chappell-Hadlee Trophy than playing in South Africa, or the selectors are not really serious about the chances of a Chris Cairns comeback.

If it is the former, it is misguided; if it is the latter it is lunacy.

The nature of cricket, being such an individualistic sport within the framework of a team, dictates that it is easier to win games by picking your best players. In sports like rugby and football you can get away with picking lesser individuals for the betterment of the collective far more easily than you can in cricket.

In simple terms: if you were picking the best players to take to South Africa, a place where New Zealand has had limited success in recent years, would you include Cairns?

Of course you would.

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