26 May 14


Lance's Lament

 A few years back I read a family tree and was pleasantly surprised to see Lance Cairns was a sixth cousin of mine. It confirmed why he was always such a good bugger to me. Often in the despair of my opening two years of test cricket, Lance would grab me in a gentle headlock and murmur not to worry, to chill, to relax. He was a down to earth character, a folk hero to the mainstream kiwi, a father figure in a sometimes cruel unforgiving world. He gave me hope.

I played with Lance from 1982 against Australia, until his final test in Perth in 1985. He was a solid consistent performer that often defied his ugly looking yet mighty talent. His bowling was all wrong aesthetically, yet often effective and menacing in its unique way. His ten wickets at Leeds in 1983 was a triumph of spirit over technique. Richard Hadlee went wicketless, but Lance was unplayable with his late dipping in-swingers at 125km max, unnerving accuracy and deceiving bounce. His match winning performance enabled New Zealand to secure its first ever victory of England in England, after over fifty years of trying. 

Lance was a proud man. He was my Colin Meads, the rugged icon of All Rugby yesteryear. I adored him, and still do. When we catch up, as we do often at cricket grounds, he is open and warm just like the very first day he took me under his wing, under that caring headlock.

 I met his son Chris during those early years. He was a strapping, athletic lad with a smile like his dads and a passion for cricket. He practiced with us and listened intently. His destiny was already written. Incredibly, just four years after Lance retired at Perth, Chris was selected to play his first test, coincidently at Perth also. Chris had only a handful of first class games, before he was rushed to Adelaide to join us on the 1989 tour. It was at the time a dumb decision, and that has never changed.

On the first morning of the Perth test, which would become known as Mark Greatbatch's Test, I jumped into the lift to head down to breakfast. Standing in the corner lift was Chris. He was white and ashen. I asked if he was alright and he couldn't speak. He was petrified, tired from no sleep, but mostly he was lacking any spirit or belief in what was about to unfold in his debut match. 

After 12 overs and none for sixty, Chris limped off with a broken back. He was so tense and so screwed up, such were the high expectations for a kid going on 14, it was no wonder he broke. We didn't see Chris again until early 1991, when I was then captain, but this was a long term project, such was the frailty and fragility of character on show.

Chris stumbled and fell many times during this next phase. He was often injured, often ill-disciplined, always referred to as 'BA', for bad attitude. Likeable, but reckless. Skilful, but wayward. He adorned the sidelines mostly during and beyond the 1992 World Cup, and then appeared again under Glenn Turner's regime in late 1995. This was the watershed moment. He blatantly rebelled. His body was maturing but his personality was becoming maverick. To be fair, Turner goaded him, and he snapped, refusing to play in the deciding one dayer in Mumbai and then leaving the ship altogether, mid-tour, six months later in the Caribbean. 

NZC had a major decision to make. Under new governance and leadership they sacked Turner and placed their trust in a new management style, mostly to mentor the enigmatic Chris. It worked. Under former All Black captain John Graham and Steve Rixon, Chris managed to do some growing up. Not a lot, as the were some crazy mad moments of self sabotage and team betrayal, but just enough for the rest to trust that the management would guide him from there on in. Under Stephen Fleming's tactical nous the team began to win.

Over those brighter years from 1998 to 2004, Chris became the most lethal, potent match winning all-rounder in the world. He broke the six hitting world record, he captured seven-fors, bowled mesmeric slower balls, and he smoked hundreds. Then he packed it all in, during 2005, to go make his fortune.

Following his well documented High Court victory last year, Chris popped up in New Zealand last year ready to launch a new media career. Within days of beginning his new role in television commentary he was rushing home to his wife Mel, to comfort her, as his name had been released in a new match fixing twist - a secret investigation by the ICC was underway, except it wasn't a secret anymore. 

These are dark days indeed, with darker ones ahead. Leaks are flying everywhere, and Chris is being nailed in the court of public opinion, without a chance to answer, as the ICC circumvent him. That in itself is appalling. They simply must wind this matter up and make a decision. They act as slowly as a hedgehog in a thoughtful meditative state. The longer they carry on at this roadkill pace, the sooner they destroy the very game they supposedly govern. The ICC are serious serial offenders in gifting their wicket, and this is one of their worst innings.

Worst of all, from a personal standpoint, is what Lance will make of it all. Yet, none of this will be as dark for him as a previous unbelievably tragic event took hold of his life.

In 1993, in the worst possible moment a parent can experience, Lance learnt that his beautiful serene teenage daughter Louise was killed in a freak train accident in Canterbury. I felt for my mate as he carried the coffin of his beloved girl to rest in peace. And I prayed that Lance would find his. He deserved a fair run. Despite battling deafness and a broken heart, he kept his head up, kept boxing on as only a true legend would. 

And now, in this hideous hour, Lance faces another sledgehammer. That of his prodigal son. I want Lance to know, that for all he did for me, I am sorry he has to go through another tortured time.

And I am bleeding too. To see this played out in my backyard is numbing. There is a special World Cup due to be played here soon. I wake every day in the hope that closure is closing in.


Let it end.



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