For cricket fans, the news came unarmed from the blue.
Still safely in the sleepy preparation stage before the men’s cricket summer properly began, there was about half an hour’s warning that the game’s landscape in Australia was about to be seismically altered yet again.
At the same time as a story was published detailing a series of text messages Australian Test Captain Tim Paine sent a female Cricket Tasmania employee in 2017, an impromptu press conference was called.
After taking the time needed to understand the allegations made and deafening details shared, it didn’t take much genius to guess what would come next in that press conference.
But what seemed sudden to them would be anything but Paine.
In the four years since the messages were sent, and the three and a half years since Cricket Australia investigated them, it is not unreasonable to assume that Paine may have had some panicked thoughts that day might come.
And if it did, he would know then as much as he knew today – that his position as captain of the Australian cricket team was untenable.
The details of what actually happened here are still presented through quick press conferences, somewhat challenging statements from leading bodies and media leaks, but we know enough now to put together a timeline of events.
We know that in November 2017, Paine sent a series of sexually explicit messages to Cricket Tasmania staff, including at least one graphic image.
Paine played the summer when Australia won the Ashes, then joined the team on South Africa’s fateful tour which culminated in Cape Town’s deception scandal.
As Steve Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft fell on their swords, Paine was the default and yet seemingly perfect choice to become the new Test captain and face of the new era of Australian cricket.
He was clean-skinned, immediately still the blond-haired prodigy who broke through first and now the battle-weary veteran who pulled himself by the boot straps to win a second chance.
And while the world collapsed around it and decisions were made for the expressed purpose of cultural reform, that was the image of Cricket Australia presented.
Three months later, in June 2018, Cricket Australia and Cricket Tasmania were aware of the allegations by a complaint from the woman in question.
The fact that Paine was married to a five-month-old baby during the messages clearly deepens the problem, but is not what would have triggered the investigation.
Paine was initially accused of sending unsolicited images of his genitals – which is by definition sexual harassment. But those allegations were dismissed when subsequent investigations found, as Cricket Tasmania put it today, that the interaction was “consensual, private, took place on one occasion only, was among mature adults and was not repeated”.
Both investigations by Cricket Australia and Cricket Tasmania found that Paine did not violate any codes of conduct.
After Paine was cleared, it appears the matter was one for Cricket Australia’s archive – that is until elements of the media were aware of the incident and were ready to reveal its salty details.
Which brings us to today, and the many questions that remain prominent.
Some of those questions revolve around the sequence of events that took place today, the excavation and release of private messages that were found not to violate any codes of conduct after what we are forced to assume was a thorough investigative process.
But the biggest questions are about what happened in June 2018, just a few months after the sandpaper deterioration and with Australian cricket at its lowest decline.
At that point, Cricket Australia faced a fork in the road.
They could, in the name of complete transparency and by making a declaration of positive cultural intent, reveal publicly that an investigation is being developed into the behavior of the new Test Captain and lead to the inevitable backlash for the greater good.
Or they could say nothing. They could continue their public organizational cleanup and hope that this crappy business will stay behind closed doors forever.
It’s not hard to see why they made the second choice. But it does little to create confidence that this Cricket Australia is different from the one it has apparently dismantled and left behind.
There are no indications that there will be a further investigation into the allegations made by the Cricket Tasmania employee, and Cricket Australia said Paine remains available for election for the first Test in Brisbane on December 8th.
The Australian Cricketers’ Association said it was “saddened” that Paine felt the need to resign, and said his retirement reflected “the esteem in which he held the role”.
Maybe we shouldn’t all be so shocked the next time a sudden Friday afternoon press conference is called.