Cricket, Twitter & controversies

Sportsmen, like celebrities from other walks of life, have been involved in a number of social media-related controversies. This piece will, for the sake of brevity, confine itself to cricketers and their online gaffes. By Arun Venugopal.

Some of us, at some point, would have come across reproachful groans about the “twitter generation.” Others may have a barb or three aimed at a similar “facebook generation.” But like them or loathe them, they are here to stay. Not for a moment is it suggested that social networking sites are evil incarnate. As many netizens would attest, they have been hugely influential in — apart from serving as a platform for networking — shaping opinion (the Arab Spring is an example).

Such sites have also found the patronage of several celebrities. What’s interesting to see is how twitter, for instance, has become a breeding ground for controversies — for no fault of the micro-blogging site itself — especially when celebrities are involved. It may be argued that controversies trail popular personalities regardless of the medium. But in an age where there is a raging urge to disseminate every single bit of information — ranging from the mundane to the all-important — there are bound to be ruffled feathers.

The trigger-happy nature of the twitterati results in 140 unfiltered characters being shot off. After all, even if things go out of hand, the ‘offensive’ tweet can be deleted and a 100-odd character apology be tendered! The contours of confrontation have changed with the emphasis more on retrospection than restraint.

If cricket, twitter, and controversy form a cocktail, there would still be one key ingredient missing: Kevin Pietersen. The charismatic England batsman, a compulsive twitter user if ever there was one, has waltzed his way from one controversy to another. While he finds himself in trouble with the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) yet again; this time over texts he reportedly made. The rights and wrongs of the issue, which began with Pietersen’s acidic press conference after the second Test against South Africa, are open to debate. The fact remains, however, that he has had more than his share of trouble with twitter.

In 2010, when he was dropped from the England ODI side, KP reacted with the following tweet: “Done for rest of summer!! Man of the World Cup T20, and dropped from the T20 side too. It’s a f..k-up ...” He was duly fined by the ECB. More recently, he copped further grief after lambasting former England batsman Nick Knight, who is now a commentator with Sky Sports. The ECB fined him again. England captain Andrew Strauss adopted a pragmatic view of twitter. “It does a really good publicising job but players can find themselves in hot water occasionally. There’s a line they need to tread.”

As if the agony wasn’t enough, KP also had to deal with a parody account, lampooning his idiosyncrasies. In an atmosphere of growing distrust, he even insinuated that some of his team-mates were behind the account. Admittedly, the Pietersen affair is a much more complex one but his impressions on twitter have not made things any easy for him. Last heard, he wasn’t keen on shutting down his account.

Pietersen isn’t the only English cricketer to be involved in an incident on twitter. Fast bowler Tim Bresnan, in 2009, swore at a follower. He later apologised to England coach Andy Flower. “If you are an England player you have obviously got to behave in a certain way,” Flower had said then.

India’s young batting sensation Virat Kohli took to twitter justifying his “obscene” gesture to the heckling fans at the Sydney Cricket Ground in January. “I agree cricketers don’t have to retaliate. What when the crowd says the worst things about your mother and sister. The worst I’ve heard,” Kohli had tweeted.

Some of the other notable twitter incidents include former England captain Michael Vaughan’s allegation last year that V.V.S. Laxman had smeared Vaseline on the edge of the bat to “throw thermal-imaging technology off the scent” during the Trent Bridge Test. Earlier this year, former Australian fast bowler Rodney Hogg’s ill-advised tweet hurt Islamic sentiments. Hogg apologised later. Discarded Pakistan cricketer Zulqarnain Haider, in a message on his Facebook account a few days ago, blasted Kamran Akmal’s selection and threatened to reveal the alleged involvement of a few Pakistani cricketers in spot-fixing.

New Challenge

Such instances have posed new challenges for cricket boards all over the world. While boards sometimes resort to gagging the players from talking to the media, it has taken a while for them to wake up to the impact of social networking sites. In the light of the Kohli episode, the team management then reportedly asked the Indian players to stay away from twitter. Haider now faces the prospect of being banned from playing domestic cricket in Pakistan.

Interestingly, players such as Jacques Kallis and Sachin Tendulkar — both of who have accounts on twitter but remain passive users — have never found themselves on the wrong end of social media. Kallis offers a crucial bit of advice that may prove useful for cricketers who can’t resist tweeting or texting: “You have got to be careful about just what you send. You have to be a little more careful during series you’re playing against each other.”