Johannesburg: In an effort to protect his suspect knees, New Zealand's Chris Cairns had waited around 12 months to bowl again. But after his one and only over was hit to all parts of the Port Elizabeth ground for 21 runs by the West Indies on Thursday, the 32-year-old could have been forgiven if he demanded another year's break before he turned his arm again. "The skipper gave me the ball and told me to bowl to keep the West Indies tied down, but it was a disaster," admitted the man widely regarded as the best all-rounder in the world.
After a long lay-off from the international scene, the 32-year-old returned to the Black Caps squad for the final three One-dayers against India in January but only as a batsman. That was the role he was handed in the opening defeat here against Sri Lanka, when he made 32. He then made a valuable 37 in the win against the West Indies and played a major role in running out dangerman Brian Lara by picking up Lou Vincent's throw from the boundary and then breaking the stumps from long distance as the West Indian record breaker struggled to make his ground. "It is always easier to bat than bowl when you have been away so I will just have to work harder.
There is a lot of work to do but I know I will get better and it was great to be involved in the run-out. "We have worked hard on our fielding and a lot of it was quite desperate but that's what we had to do to stay in the competition. I'm still working on my bowling, and I am determined to have an all-round role at this World Cup." Skipper Stephen Fleming, who put Cairns out of his misery by taking him out of the attack after his single embarrassing over, has no doubt that his star player will come good.
"He was nervous and very rusty but there is no doubt that he will get better with work," Fleming said. Cairns is a crucial part of the Kiwi set-up as he has shown time after time, able to turn a game almost single-handed. In 1998-99, he hit a 75-ball century with six sixes against India, the fastest ever by a New Zealander - for good measure he also chipped in with three wickets. Since his debut against England in Wellington in 1990-91, Cairns has played 156 matches notching up over 3,700 runs, taking 154 wickets and with a habit of coming good at the right time.
At the 1999 World Cup in England, he played having shaken off a calf injury and took 12 wickets as his side reached the semi-finals where he hit an unbeaten 44 in the defeat to Pakistan. A big match performer, Cairns hit 60 as the Kiwis beat eventual champion Australia in their opening match. He enjoyed English conditions that summer - later bowling his country to its first ever Test win at Lord's and then snatching five wickets and hitting 80 runs as it won the final Test and the series. Things got better in 2000-01 when he was named the top all-rounder in the world after claiming his best Test figures of seven for 27 against the West Indies and joining father Lance as the only Kiwi to have taken 10 wickets in a Test.