Martin Williamson is managing editor of Cricinfo
The involvement of Justice Ahmed Ebrahim in the Zimbabwe crisis might not warrant headlines but it could signal the beginning of the end for the beleagured Zimbabwe cricket chairman Peter Chingoka and his right-hand man, Ozias Bvute.
Despite being under enough fire to sink even the most redoubtable politician in recent months, until the end of last week Chingoka and Bvute showed little indication that they were about to stand down. In fact, bullish statements hinted that Chingoka believed he had weathered the storm and, rather like a prize fighter who has taken a breather, was about to come out fighting. But the arrival of Ebrahim, steaming over the horizon with the ZC elite in his sights, might be just enough to send Chingoka and Bvute on their way.
Until now, the standard way to deal with opposition to the board has been to label it as racist. When the provincial chairmen openly demanded that something be done, fairly clumsy - and unsuccessful - attempts were made to oust them from within their own provinces. In a move that many believed was an exercise aimed at giving the controlling board sufficient votes to outgun the established - and rebelling - associations, ZC also announced the creation of five new provinces. That would be all well and good, but that move came at the same time the existing ones reported that funding from ZC had all but dried up. ZC could not support them, making the addition of five more almost ludicrous.
Even when the players almost unanimously stated they would refuse to play while the pair remained, the well-used innuendos that hidden forces were at work resurfaced. And when Tatenda Taibu quit in the face of personal threats, the ZC media machine sought to portray him as money-grabbing rather than idealistic. There was an excuse for everything.
But the emergence of the source of those threats and a man with an alarming history, Themba Mliswa, might also have helped to hasten the end. Ostensibly, Mliswa's only right to comment on Zimbabwe cricket comes as newly-elected chairman of Mashonaland West, one of the five fledgling provinces which have yet to be officially affiliated. But he appears to be acting with a far higher authority than that. He attempted to disrupt a meeting of the provincial chairmen in October and the police had to be called. He twice threatened Taibu. On the same day I was assured he had no links with ZC, he was in Bulawayo claiming to be acting on behalf of the board. And there are clear indications that he has started to be used as the board's semi-official enforcer. Something doesn't add up. And the involvement of an overtly pro-Mugabe hardman, while common across most facets of life in Zimbabwe , also scuppered all claims ZC made to being apolitical.
But back to Ebrahim. He is a figure that cannot be dismissed by slurs and sniping. A former Supreme Court judge with a reputation for being independent, he carries considerable clout internally, and equally important he is respected inside the ICC. It entrusted him with leading the hearing into the Maurice Odumbe match-fixing claims, and he has allies in many places. Until now, despite being a ZC vice-chairman, he has remained on the sidelines, watching. Now that he has rolled up his sleeves and waded in, things are looking bleaker for Chingoka and Bvute than they have for some time and he is likely to be able to stir up international support.
Any new regime will, by Ebrahim's own admission, inherit a board with no credibility internally or externally, and certainly no money. Where it has all gone is at the heart of calls from all parties for a forensic audit of the accounts - and as details leak out the demands for answers may well start coming from overseas as well. The infrastructure is in tatters, and the national side is a laughing stock. But what it will have is goodwill, and it can capitalise on that. The international community's guilt at sitting resolutely on the sidelines when the shambles has been there for all to see will guarantee that.