Cairns was a destructive batsman who could hit sixes straight down the ground and in his earlier days was an intelligent fast-medium bowler. Since then, persistent injuries have forced him to drop his pace and rely more on his hard-to-read slower ball.
With the bat, Cairns has been the author of some of New Zealand cricket's most memorable innings, including his unbeaten 102 to win the final of the 2000 ICC KnockOut Trophy for New Zealand against India in Kenya, and his 158 from just 172 balls in a Test against South Africa in 2004. Cairns knocked Shane Warne out of Australia's bowling attack during a 2000 test in Wellington when he launched several sixes out of the Basin Reserve and onto the adjacent street. Cairns formerly held the world record for most sixes in Tests (87, since surpassed by Adam Gilchrist), and shared the New Zealand record for fastest century in ODIs (75 balls, since surpassed by Craig McMillan).
He is also one of only seven players to have reached the all-rounder's double of 200 wickets and 3000 runs. Out of these seven players, Cairns reached the double 2nd fastest (58 Test) behind Ian Botham. In ODIs, Cairns came close to another double of 200 wickets and 5000 runs. Cairns finished his ODI career on 4950 runs, just 50 short. Cairns Test batting average at number seven (44.02) is the 5th best average for that position of all time.
The New Zealand Herald journalist, Richard Boock said about Cairns: "It's not a scientific measure of course, but if Cairns' body had held together long enough for him to have played 100 Tests, his figures extrapolate out to something like 5334 runs and 351 wickets – very similar to those of Botham." He went on to say "He was, and should be remembered as, one of the game's best all-rounders."
Injuries plagued Cairns throughout his career. There remains some debate over his statistics and how they reflected his ability. In Cairns career he played 62 Test and missed a further 55 due to injury. Sidharth Monga writing in 2009 that Cairns' career returns "were a poor justification of his prodigious talent."
Cairns retired from the New Zealand Test team in 2004. On 22 January 2006, Cairns announced his retirement from ODIs in a press conference. A Twenty20 match against the West Indies on 16 February 2006 was his last game representing New Zealand. He was also part of the ICC World XI that played in the World Cricket Tsunami Appeal matches.
In Cairns' final game, he bowled four overs for 24 and no wicket and scored a nine-ball duck, before being bowled by Chris Gayle. He also missed the stumps in both attempts during the bowl off. Cricinfo describe his final international as "an unfitting farewell" and that "he deserved better".
His sister Louise was killed at Rolleston in an August 1993 train accident; in September 2008 he completed a 1,001 km (622 mi) walk promoting rail safety awareness.
In March 2012 Cairns successfully sued former Indian Premier League commissioner Lalit Modi for libel, after Modi posted on Twitter in 2010 that Cairns had been involved in match-fixing during 2008. He won costs and damages.
In December 2013, Cairns was the subject of allegations in an ICC investigation into match-fixing.
Cairns is married to Melanie Croser, an Australian who works for the sports marketing group Octagon in Sydney. It is his third marriage. Cairns lives in Canberra and will start playing for the local club North Canberra Gungahlin Eagles in the 2011/12 season. In his first he scored 141 off 66 balls, including 13 sixes. During this knock his last 90 runs came off 27 balls.
During the Lord's Test against England, he bowled England wicket-keeper Chris Read for zero. Read was ducking to the ball, what he thought was a beamer from Chris Cairns but was in fact a well-disguised slower ball.