Happier days for Brendon McCullum (left) and Chris Cairns © Getty Images
Happier days for Brendon McCullum (left) and Chris Cairns © Getty Images

New Zealand refused to travel to Kenya during the 2003 World Cup. In fact, they preferred to concede the match, and stayed back at Durban. Taking a day off, Brendon McCullum and Chris Cairns ran into trouble. Paulami Chakraborty recalls a forgotten controversy on February 21, 2003, that had temporarily caused a stir during a World Cup.

ICC World Cup 2003. Australia’s ruthless domination. Shoaib Akhtar’s scorchers. Shane Warne’s drug scandal. The amazing Indian turnaround. Shane Bond taking on Brett Lee. The Andy Flower-Henry Olonga show. An adrenaline-filled India-Pakistan contest. A Kenyan fairytale. Another South African heartbreak. Chaminda Vaas’ hat-trick start. John Davison’s rampage.

England refused to tour Zimbabwe on political grounds. They preferred to concede the match instead. What did not get as much publicity was New Zealand’s refusal to tour Kenya after they had survived three terror attacks in Sri Lanka and one in Pakistan. Before the scheduled match, a blast in Mombasa had claimed sixteen lives. Understandably, New Zealand were not keen on the tour. They appealed for relocation, but ICC did not give in. The team management spent an entire day in the meeting-room to come to a decision to give a walkover. They could not be blamed for preferring life over 4 points.

New Zealand Cricket gave a clear statement, as published in The Guardian: “The information received by the ICC Security Delegation to Kenya made it clear that there is a tangible terrorist threat in Nairobi and the board has seen nothing which changes that.”

It was not an easy decision. They had played three matches so far, and had lost one. Sri Lanka had won all three and were as good as through. New Zealand needed one victory to ensure a spot in the Super Sixes. Kenya was an opportunity. But it never happened.

Chris Cairns had been erratic in the tournament. The unexpected off-day within a tightly packed schedule meant that the cricketers decided to relax. Cairns, of course, being Cairns, had his own methods.

Half the New Zealand team was present at the Tiger Tiger NightClub in Durban. Stephen Fleming, Craig McMillan, Andre Adams, Scott Styris, Daniel Vettori, Jacob Oram and Kyle Mills were all present, but of the lot, Cairns and McCullum suddenly felt an urge to perform the haka in the club.

The problem was, they decided to do the haka shirtless, which was against the club protocols. They were warned once, but they did not bother. Club owner van der Post asked the players to put their shirts on but they refused: “He (Cairns) handed me his shirt and said that I should do it. I stepped back and watched them for a while,” Van der Post told iol.co.za.

Van der Post decided to talk to Fleming. This got the pair to put their shirts back on, but they were not too happy about it. They were left fuming and, to put things politely, did not act their best. Van der Post asked them to leave the club.

Once they were out, they tried to re-enter. A stranger from the crowd came up and punched Cairns, knocking him to the ground. He was left with a cut lip and a bruised face. Those present helped the cricketers reach their hotels.

Later, the man who punched Cairns was identified as one of the troublemakers. New Zealand Cricket, however, fined McCullum and Cairns NZD $250 each for inappropriate behaviour. The board mentioned, “The behaviour exhibited by some of the players at the Tiger Tiger Nightclub on the evening in question was unacceptable and should not be allowed either by the players or team management to re-occur.” Board Chief Martin Snedden said, “A direction has been given to team manager Jeff Crowe to immediately tighten up these to overcome existing deficiencies.”

Cairns later apologised via his manager Leanne Goldrick, who told the press: “He turned a corner five years ago (from 2003) and has been a wonderful role model and been determined to perform on the field. It would be a shame if things were soured by this. Chris basically had to do all his growing up in public but he has matured now. It was a most unfortunate incident. He wants to move on, put this behind him, and focus on the World Cup.”

Cairns kept his words in the tournament with decent contribution in every New Zealand game that followed.

(Paulami Chakraborty, a singer, dancer, artist, and photographer, loves the madness of cricket and writes about the game. She can be followed on Twitter at @Polotwitts)