New Zealand's longest serving one-day player was yesterday left out of the squad named for next month's tour of South Africa, and told by the selectors that a recall was unlikely unless he opted to play more cricket.
Already retired from the test scene, Cairns had hoped to exist on a diet of one-day internationals and domestic limited-overs cricket, something that apparently the new selection panel of John Bracewell, Sir Richard Hadlee, Glenn Turner and Dion Nash didn't agree with.
To underline their concern, he was unceremoniously dumped from the 15-man squad for the five-match one-day series against South Africa, the selectors opting instead to include paceman James Franklin.
Cairns said last night that it would be easy for him to quit and concentrate on his young family and business interests, but that he still felt driven to push for one last hurrah - the 2007 World Cup.
"I'm not finished yet, and I certainly don't feel washed-up," he said.
"I probably underestimated the effect of not playing first-class or test cricket, but this has forced the point now; it's effectively asking me: how much do you want this?
"Well, my answer is that I want it a lot, to the extent that I'll now play for Canterbury in first-class cricket as well as the one-dayers in a bid to force my way back into the squad." veteran of 208 ODIs, Cairns was put on notice by the selectors before the tour to Zimbabwe, but struggled to make a contribution after suffering a hamstring strain and ended up as a substitute in the tri-series final.
He said Bracewell had met him for a chat about 10 days ago to advise him of his impending setback, and to reinforce what he needed to do to win a recall and play at the World Cup.
"At the start my ego jumped in and I questioned a couple of things but there's no doubt that I was behind the eight-ball in Zimbabwe, I was a liability over there and I was as frustrated as anyone else.
"But I'm pretty stubborn and this is allowing me to find out what's inside. It's a testing time for me, but I understand that the game owes me nothing. Chris Cairns owes the Black Caps, it's not the other way around."
Bracewell said last night that dropping Cairns was one of the hardest decisions of the job so far, but a necessary one in terms of challenging the all-rounder to address the problem before it was too late.
He said Cairns was omitted because of his lack of cricket fitness and that he needed to confront his workload if he was to force his way back into contention.
"We sat down for a long chat about the issue and it was a pretty tough hour for both of us, because we go back a long way," said Bracewell.
"It could have gone two ways; he could have said 'well, that's it I'm retiring' or he could have accepted the challenge. Thankfully he opted for the latter.
"I mean, it isn't necessarily a terminal problem because there is an obvious solution: he just needs to play more cricket."
The bombshell was the latest in a series of hard-nosed decisions made by Bracewell as he fashions the best possible combination for a World Cup title-bid in the West Indies.
Not known for shirking the tough calls, he has already given Craig McMillan a spell in purgatory and has also dropped - among others, Mathew Sinclair, Ian Butler, Paul Wiseman and Daryl Tuffey.
"We have to face up to making the difficult decisions because it will take a squad of 15 players in top form to win in the West Indies; there'll be no room for sentimental votes or past reputations.
"Having to drop someone like Chris is an awful moment for any selector, but I'm just glad that he's taken the issue on board and is still keen to fight back."
New Zealand squad:
Stephen Fleming (captain), Nathan Astle, Hamish Marshall, James Marshall, Craig McMillan, Lou Vincent, Scott Styris, Jacob Oram, Brendon McCullum, Daniel Vettori, James Franklin, Kyle Mills, Andre Adams, Shane Bond, Jeetan Patel.
Oct 14: v South Africa A, BenoniOct 16: v South Africa A, PotchefstroomOct 21: v South Africa A, Johannesburg (twenty/20)Oct 23: v South Africa, BloemfonteinOct 28: v South Africa, Cape TownOct 30: v South Africa, Port ElizabethNov 4: v South Africa, DurbanNov 6: v South Africa, Centurion