Australia's selectors have dropped a bombshell today, announcing the axing of national captain Steve Waugh from the country's one-day international team.
The shock announcement was made in Sydney this afternoon on the eve of Waugh's departure to South Africa as the leader of a Test squad which will meet the Proteas in a three-match series that begins later this month.
"It was a very difficult decision to make, and not one that was taken lightly," said Trevor Hohns, chairman of the national selection panel, at a specially convened media conference this afternoon.
"Obviously, no-one enjoys making these types of judgements, particularly when it deals with a player such as Steve for whom we as selectors have the utmost respect - not only a player but also a person."
Hohns stressed that the decision was made with a particular view to Australia's defence of the World Cup in South Africa next year. He said that his panel had formed the unanimous view that there were now a number of players ahead of Waugh in the running for places in their best one-day combination.
"At times, (selection) is a very difficult job," added James Sutherland, Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Cricket Board.
"But, in the end, it is their responsibility to pick the best group of players without fear or favour."
Waugh and several members of his team have been the subject of intense media pressure over the past fortnight after Australia failed to qualify for the finals of the recent VB Series of matches against New Zealand and South Africa.
Yet his axing as both a captain and a member of the squad still comes as a major surprise.
Waugh stated that the decision represented a "setback and a challenge" and that he was determined to win his berth back.
"I'll definitely remain available for Australia for one-day cricket. I'd love to be part of that World Cup campaign in 2003," said Waugh.
"I've never shied away from a challenge; I'm a pretty determined sort of a person and I'll do everything in my power to get back in that one-day side - my campaign starts from today."
Waugh, who was informed of the selectors' actions shortly before the Allan Border Medal count in Melbourne two days ago, said that he was "disappointed and a little shocked" by their verdict. But he added that it would act as the prompt for him to fight his way back into the one-day international arena.
"I still really love the game and I've always said that I'm not going to retire until I lose that competitive edge, I feel I'm not good enough, or I'm not improving.
"I've just got to get on and deal with this in the best way I can.
"I've never been one to take the easy option."
Waugh has captained Australia in 106 one-day internationals, leading the side to a total of 67 victories in those matches. His winning percentage of 63% outranks that of any other long-term leader in Australian one-day international history, with Allan Border's 60% strike rate the closest.
He was elevated to a role as Australia's one-day international captain upon Mark Taylor's omission from the country's limited-overs team in 1998. He then assumed Taylor's post as Test captain upon his fellow New South Welshman's retirement from all levels of the sport the following year.
In all, he has played 325 one-day international matches as well as 145 Tests for his country.
Hohns confirmed that his four-man panel had not yet decided upon who would replace Waugh as the side's new one-day captain but that they would arrive at that judgement over the course of the next week.
The side's vice-captain, Adam Gilchrist, looms as the early favourite.