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The tail that wags the dog

THERE have been occasions in the past when I have been amazed by what goes on in the world of cricket. But this Mark Waugh business takes the cake. It is difficult to fathom what exactly is going on and even more difficult to understand why the cricket board in Australia and even the International Cricket Conference is dancing to his tune.

For the uninitiated, the situation is this: a few days back, former Pakistan batsman Qasim Omer claimed that in the '80s, many players had been provided sexual favours by bookmakers in order to get them (the players) to throw matches. The women who were used were Australian, barring one Pakistani and one Chinese, and an Australian bookmaker was involved, claimed Omer. His claims were made to the ICC panel investigating match-fixing; this was leaked to the English newspaper The Observer. It was hilarious in the extreme when the Prostitutes Collective of Victoria, the Australian state of which Melbourne is capital, were quoted as saying that their members could not be involved; otherwise, ran the logic of the spokesperson, there would have been talk about these things among the members and it would have been publicised much earlier! Cricket, it appears, has more to do with whores than gentlemen these days!!!

When the Indian CBI released its report, Mark Waugh was quick to say that if needed, he would open his bank records to investigators to clear his name. He is also on record as saying he would cooperate with any further investigation. The day after Omer's allegations appeared in the Australian media, Waugh did a volte face and said he would not be cooperating with the ICC folk who are expected to visit Melbourne in February in order to continue their investigations. Is there some connection here?

The Australian Cricket Board should have asked him to reconsider and immediately suspended him when he refused to do so. Instead, it has started hemming and hawing. So too the ICC. Believe it or not, the latest stance of this organisation, which claims to be the international body for administering cricket, is that it is willing to tell Mark Waugh's lawyers what the investigators want to know beforehand. Then, if his highness is so inclined, he can cooperate. A clear case of the tail wagging the dog.

Before the summer season, there was a cloud hanging over Mark Waugh. His place in the team was not secure given his pre-season batting form. There were calls for him to be dropped. But he has come out of the season with enough runs under his belt to sneer at his detractors. And the board is acutely conscious of this. Had this happened at the start of the season, then it is possible that the board would not have shown this degree of reluctance to act.

Every right-minded person has come to one conclusion: if Mark has nothing to hide, why has he changed his position overnight? Ian Chappell, Neil Harvey, Mark Taylor, cricket writers, commentators - you name them, they all agree that if the man has nothing to hide, he should let people in to see that he is clean. It would have been different if Mark had refused to cooperate earlier, citing the same argument that he is invoking now - "I have already answered these charges and unless there is some new charge to refute, I refuse to come before the inquiry." No, this backing away into a corner came this week. If this is is not suspicious, then I am a newt.

It will be interesting to see what happens next. When Jagmohan Dalmiya was the ICC president, a number of players from the subcontinent got away with blue murder. It is interesting to note that with the ICC now headed by an Australian, a player from that country is getting a soft ride. There are times when people have to stand up and be counted. The time for the ICC president Malcolm Gray to act is now. He should put pressure on the Australian board to suspend Waugh until the man is cleared. Else, Gray might as well hand the running of the ICC over to bookmakers in Bombay. There will certainly be more honour among thieves than there is right now within the ICC.