MALCOLM Speed, the chief executive of the Australian Cricket Board, is as much a bureaucrat as any other. He plays the game well and knows just how much he can procrastinate to delay acting on any matter that is deemed urgent. He must have felt a great deal of fire under his backside to convince his board of directors to give Mark Waugh an ultimatum - agree to being questioned by the ICC match-fixing probe team by 4pm on Thursday, Australian time, or else you will be dropped from the team.
No matter what happens, it will be big news. If Waugh sticks to his guns, then he can bid goodbye to his international career. And that will be a big event for he still has enough ability to keep going for a few more years. More, he will rank on par with Mohammed Azharuddin, whose career was cut short at 99 Test matches. And the suspicion that he was involved in more than he let on will linger.
On the other hand, if Waugh agrees to be questioned, you can be sure that come February 9, there will be something pretty sensational emerging from the panel. The parallels with the Hansie Cronje case are startling; it is only the time intervals that are different. Not much time elapsed between the time when Cronje protested that he was innocent of charges levelled by the India police and the day when he confessed. In Waugh's case, ever since that famous press conference, when he and Shane Warne tried to adopt a look of wide-eyed innocence, he has been denying that he has done anything more than what he has admitted.
My gut feeling is that if Waugh backs down and agrees to talk to the panel, then somebody will leak the details of what he plans to tell them well before he actually does so. The problem with having secrets is that once it becomes a millstone round one's neck, then all those in the know will be eager to spill the beans. After all, such is the morality in today's world that even a crook is praised for telling the truth - when he should be kicked in the cojones if he does not.
The Australian board was probably aware that the roasting they got in the country's media and from former respected cricketers on Wednesday morning - when news of Waugh's unwillingness to testify was published - would only worsen the following day if nothing was done. The summer season has been good in terms of money but the West Indies haven't exactly been a draw and crowds have been coming to see the home side win. The board knows that if the image of the team is sullied then those crowds could well diminish. That means less money. And that is probably the main reason why the board has acted.
There is also the issue of criticism from other countries. The Australians have taken the high moral ground on many issues and now they have to justify doing so. In short, Caesar's wife has to be seen to be above suspicion. The dog has temporarily taken over its own tail. Else, the Indian and Pakistani boards may well raise the issue at the next meeting in Melbourne. And the press coverage in India, where the Australians are headed next month, will certainly not be very complimentary.
And this is not the end of the road, dear reader, there are many more miles to go before this whole scandal goes to sleep. There are players from every country, except Zimbabwe and possibly Bangladesh, involved. The truth may take a decade to emerge, but come it will, and when it does, the game will get murkier and murkier. You see, the same people are involved in these little games - betting, prostitution and the like - worlwide. The same bunch of names will keep surfacing. Just remember that you read it here first.