If there was any doubt that early 2002 is the time of a changing of the guard in Australian cricket, then today's developments represent the most indisputable evidence of all.

The decision of national selectors Trevor Hohns, Allan Border, Andrew Hilditch and David Boon to relieve Steve Waugh of the country's one-day international captaincy is a clear statement of their determination to start rejuvenating a team that is showing signs of fraying at the edges.

It also signals that no player is potentially immune from their axe. Because, if Australia's most statistically successful long-term limited-overs captain can be dropped, then no-one can assume their position in the team to be safe.

This new year started with Australia looking as invincible as ever, its completion of a 3-0 series whitewash of South Africa a comprehensive re-assertion of its superiority over its rivals in the Test arena.

But, in the weeks since, it has been impossible not to detect hints of deterioriation in the performances of the country's limited-overs line-up. Nor to imagine that the decisions of the team's selectors over the next few months will be anything other than crucial to its hopes of success in the years ahead.

In finishing behind both South Africa and New Zealand in the recently-concluded VB Series, Australia not only failed to qualify for a home one-day international finals series for just the third time in 22 years. But its batsmen also struggled to produce large scores on a consistent basis; a number of its biggest names endured lacklustre individual campaigns; and its policy of rotation - of which Waugh has generally been a strong advocate - did not work well.

Against that background, impressive performances from a range of players pushing for inclusion in the team helped to foster the sense that some form of renewal might be required.

Through this period, the symbolism of thumping wins by Australia 'A' - a collection of the nation's second-tier players - over each of the two touring teams was especially hard to ignore.

Outstanding cricket at domestic level from youngsters like Shane Watson, Paul Rofe, Michael Clarke and Sean Clingeleffer, meanwhile, effectively poured cold water on claims from some quarters that Australia might not have the depth to effectively cover the eventual loss of its senior players.

The country's unbeaten run at the Under-19 World Cup in New Zealand has been another telling recent development.

In itself, Waugh's swift demise as one-day leader represents a major shock.

He has been one of the world's most distinguished players and it is not as though his recent performances have been in any sense underwhelming. The second-most capped player in one-day international history, he has scored 387 runs at an average of 48.38 in his last 11 innings; guided the side to 22 wins from its last 29 matches; and been far from the worst of its players.

Waugh's ruthlessness, his drive and his iron-willed determination were also crucial factors behind Australia's World Cup wins of 1987 and 1999 and the acquisition of its mantle as the world's number one side over recent years.

Yet pressure was always likely to remain centred on his team for as long as it even gave the impression of toying with decline. And, if the selectors hadn't detected the message during recent weeks that at least some tinkering with the side was needed, then any ambitions of a successful World Cup defence might as well have been surrendered.

It is likely that Waugh won't be the only player to experience first-hand the impact of such changes. His brother, Mark, is another for whom hope of a sustained career at one-day international level must now be cast in grave doubt. The futures of all-rounders Ian Harvey and Andrew Symonds will doubtless also be carefully considered.

But, as captain of the side, the buck has most immediately stopped with him.

At some point in the early part of this decade, Australia's selectors were always likely to have to confront the stomach-churning decision of knowing when to end Waugh's one-day international career.

In attempting to determine exactly how Australia's limited-overs fortunes will shape up without him, they have decided there is no better time than the present.