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Once upon a time cricketers and cricket writers used to be friends. They would buy drinks for each other. They would be the custodian of each other’s secrets.
Then some hard-bitten news reporters came along and spoilt the fun. Rather than writing about the cricket, they wanted to run stories about booze and sex. So press officers were invented. They trained cricketers to say things that were interesting, but not that interesting (well, the good ones did, anyway).
Then, to the custodians’ horror, along came… social media! First cricketers started saying rather indiscreet things on Facebook, and then the Twitter phenomenon took over.
That is when the fun really began. Discretion is the better part of valour, goes the saying. But some cricketers did not take any notice of that. Players’ representatives and agents tried to claw some of the control back by managing their clients’ accounts, but already the damage had been done.
We discovered what Michael Vaughan thought about a spot of body work Carol Vorderman may or may not have had done. Reportedly. Allegedly.
The seeds of Kevin Pietersen’s demise, meanwhile, were sowed by a Twitter account that he believed was being furnished with secrets from inside England’s dressing room. ‘KP Genius’ said things like: “People who say Test Cricket is the pinnacle haven’t played IPL in front of 80,000, slapping Indian medium pacers about at a 141% strike-rate.” It was eventually tracked down to Richard Bailey, a friend of Stuart Broad and Alex Hales, who said they knew nothing about it. No, honest.
Not that Pietersen has always shown caution himself. Dropped from England’s one-day operations in 2010, he tweeted: “Yep.. Done for rest of summer!! Man of the World Cup T20 and dropped from the T20 side too. Its [sic] a f--- up!!”
There was also discord down under when David Warner decided to play Twitter tennis with journos. Reporter Robert Craddock questioned the integrity of the IPL in the wake of spot-fixing scandals, and a picture of Warner was used to illustrate the piece. Warner tweeted: “Shock me @crashcraddock1 talking s--- about ipl jealous p----. Get a real job. All you do is bag people. #getalife”. Malcolm Conn, who was a colleague of Craddock’s then but is now Cricket Australia’s communications officer, waded in, replying: “@davidwarner31 cricket is a real job? Please. Most people pay to play. Million dollar cricketers milking the IPL are hardly the best judges.” Conn, for his troubles, was branded an “old fart” and “an absolute goose” by Warner.
Dale Steyn also let the Twittersphere know what he thought about the Faf du Plessis ball-tampering scandal in Australia. “Beaten with the bat,” he tweeted. “Beaten with the ball. Beaten in the field. Mentally stronger. Here’s a [sic] idea, Let’s blame it on a lollipop. #soft”.
Even the authorities have been caught out. Ian Bell was given out to a low catch by Steve Smith in the 2013 Ashes, only for the umpire to say the ball had not carried. “That decision sucked ass #bulls---” declared CA’s Twitter feed. No doubt the culprit has been banished to the salt mines of the Northern Territories.
Most recently Australia coach Darren Lehmann decided to speak out about KP on Twitter. Despite Pietersen’s 268 runs in eight innings for the Melbourne Stars this winter, including 73 off 46 balls against local rivals Melbourne Renegades helped his side to the semis. But Lehmann tweeted: “Time for stas to move KP on, spent too much money on him and didn’t win. Don’t want to listen to his excuses anymore.” He swiftly deleted the tweet, but the damage was done.
Twitter is certainly a curious beast. Even now no one is entirely sure what punters want. Clips, rather than links to lengthy articles, do well. Sometimes a funny tweet takes on a life of its own, and somebody will say: “You have just broken the internet!” Other times I will tweet what I feel is a masterpiece and you can almost see tumbleweed roll across my iPhone.
I have discovered gold just the once, on EU Referendum night. The BBC had a caption that said “0/382 declared” (talking about constituencies). I wrote: “It’s like watching Australia bat in an Ashes Test of the 1990s”, and it got 5,000 responses. Still six months later it is retweeted occasionally by attractive ladies with names like Anna Lefebvre (any relation to Roland?) and Farmer Amie (she doesn’t look as if she mucks out pigs judging by her profile picture). Do not get too excited, though, it has not made me wealthy.