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Board games

THE Australian Cricket Board's decision to dump Shane Warne, to put it plainly, sucks. It is a convenient way of deflecting criticism; it has very little to do with cricket and everything to do with politics. It is a sad reflection of the way cricket has gone downhill and is one more indicator that reversing this trend will be nigh impossible.

Ever since the Cronje affair came to light, the ACB has stood in fear of any intensive probing into its own dark affair - the Warne-Waugh bribe-taking episode and the board's four-year cover-up. The media has gone along with this and there has been no need for the board to do anything except issue one statement that the issue will not be reopened unless there is fresh evidence of wrongdoing. Of course, if there had been some media pressure, then the board would have had to bow before it. But, as in many other countries, the barriers were drawn down.

Additionally, there is the matter of an Austalian being at the head of the ICC and Australia's habit of taking the high moral ground whenever off-the-field misdemeanours are exposed. Something like a prostitute calling for safe sex. Australia has not exactly been silent when it comes to insinuating that the ICC under Jagmohan Dalmiya pretty much went to the dogs. (Conveniently forgotten is the fact that David Richards, the ICC chief executive, has been neck-deep in everything the ICC has done during that period.)

The Warne business was one which the board found could serve its stance well. Oh, here is a cricketer indulging in something akin to phone sex and trying to pass it off as a lark. The whole affair only reminded people that Warne has a long way to go before he grows up, that he is often prone to behave like a horny teenager and that he seriously thinks that his bowling is still as good as what it was a few seasons back.

If the board could forgive Warne the bookie issue and make him vice-captain after that, then it has no logical reason to throw him out now. That business was a serious one, no matter whether there was an ongoing investigation into corruption in the sport or not. The board obviously does not think so. Now that Cronje has confessed and a couple of other countries are taking the issue seriously, the Australian board feels it cannot afford to be out of line. And Warne has been made a scapegoat.

It is instructive that none of the media in Australia have questioned why the board made Warne vice-captain after the bookie issue came to light. It is clear that the board is a practitioner of situational ethics. At one point in time, getting 49 out of 50 will not merit a conditional pass; at others, if you get into double digits, you will be pushed into the next grade. Hypocrisy of a rather high order, sure, but then is that really something new?

The appointment of Adam Gilchrist is additional indication that this was a face-saving exercise. Gilchrist is a newcomer to the team and no matter what his claims, he is too green to be elevated. But then he is the cleanest in terms of image. And he serves the board's purpose the best. So the West Australian has been promoted for the one-day series against South Africa.

I doubt very much that the climate will change. And this means that Warne has very little chance of ever captaining his country. Steve Waugh has a year or two to go at least but Warne is 30 and has shown good leadership skills when he led the team during the one-day games in 1998-99. It is a pity but then the board has its own politics to play and its own face to save. Cricketers are often sacrificed at the altar and Warne is but the latest in a long line.