England were engulfed yesterday by a Twitter storm. It will soon become the norm before Test matches, along with the announcement of the squad.
In fining their star batsman, Kevin Pietersen, £2,000 for expressing a critical opinion of the Sky commentator, Nick Knight, on the social networking site, they also inadvertently raised questions about the suppression of free speech.
It did not look as though Pietersen was about to tie himself to boundary railings at Trent Bridge in pursuit of the rights of man on the eve of the second Test match against West Indies, but nor was he about to let the issue die quietly. He had tweeted during the Lord's Test last week: "Can someone PLEASE tell me how Nick Knight has worked his way into the commentary box for Home Tests? RIDICULOUS!!"
This followed some previous less than complimentary observations about Knight last November, but on this occasion they were picked up by other more traditional media outlets. Most ignored it, viewing it as a mere tweet unworthy of being granted greater currency, but after four days the England and Wales Cricket Board acted.
Pietersen has accepted the punishment but, as he left net practice at Nottingham yesterday, he walked over to a gaggle of watching cricket writers and said with a wide smile: "Just so you know, Atherton, Hussain, Gower, Botham, legends, love 'em." After turning to walk away following this definitive statement he added David Lloyd to the list. "And Bumble," he said.
There is a suspicion that action was taken after Sky went into bat on behalf of Knight. Sky declined to comment on this but their refusal merely led to the assumption they had. For his part, Knight was unruffled. He will not be commentating on the Test starting today because of Shane Warne's return to punditry but he will return for the third match in Birmingham.
If the ECB acted because Sky were displeased, it would seem to indicate that the broadcaster is wielding influence granted by the £260m four-year rights deal it recently agreed. Andrew Strauss, the England captain, was left to try to explain the interpretation of the policy yesterday as the issue dominated his pre-match briefing.
"That's the way of the world," he said. "If you sign an England contract you can have opinions on certain things but can't say them publicly. That's the way it is and there are good reasons for that. Any employer would expect their employees to be aware of sensitive issues for their employers. This is an issue between the board and Kevin, more than the players. We've not been particularly involved with it. But you can understand that the board is concerned with making sure their sponsors and broadcasters are looked after."
From this it could be gleaned that it is perfectly acceptable for broadcasters to express publicly opinions on players, which is their job, but it is against the grain for players to comment on those doing the commenting. Unfortunately for Pietersen he seems to be suggesting that only those who are former England captains can be trusted to commentate, which is, of course, rubbish. His comments were judged "to be prejudicial to the interest of the ECB".
Knight is often derided for sitting too firmly on the fence but since coming into the Test box he has become more assertive. He has not always been complimentary about Pietersen either, which the batsman might have been wiser to address if he had a beef.
Strauss did not seem entirely convinced that the Board had made the right call. He said the players had their own informal Twitter code of conduct, which had worked well. But asked if Pietersen had broken that code he said: "That's a tough one, it's a bit of a shade of grey but the truth is the board were unhappy with it."
Pietersen, who has been in trouble twice before about his tweets when he bemoaned his dropping from the one-day squad and then criticised the groundsman at Adelaide, dominated the day as he often does. Although his fine was for an undisclosed amount it is believed to be around £2,000 with a similar amount suspended. England are considering making one change to the team that won the first Test but the likelihood is that Tim Bresnan will keep his place ahead of Steve Finn.
The Trent Bridge pitch will be quicker than that Lord's, if only because it could hardly be slower. The home side could have done without the nonsensical twitter fuss but the distraction is unlikely to prevent England's first win at the ground against West Indies. Pietersen can reasonably be expected to score his second Test century at the ground and all being well will then tweet about it, as long as he asks permission first.
Trent Bridge details
England (probable): A J Strauss (capt), A N Cook, I J L Trott, K P Pietersen, I R Bell, J M Bairstow, M J Prior (wk), T T Bresnan, S C J Broad, G P Swann, J M Anderson.
West Indies (probable): D J G Sammy (capt), A B Barath, K O A Powell, K A Edwards, D M Bravo, S Chanderpaul, M N Samuels, D Ramdin (wk), S Shillingford, K A J Roach, R Rampaul.
Umpires A Dar & A Rauf (both Pak)
Pitch report Looked green yesterday but will dry out overnight. Bound to be faster than at Lord's, will help England's swing bowlers (all varieties) and may not need to go the distance.
TV Sky Sports 1, 10am-7pm. Highlights: Channel 5, 7-8pm.
Today Staying warm and sunny all day. Maximum temp: 24C
Tomorrow Similar conditions; 23C
Sunday Still warm and sunny; 24C
Monday Overcast, with chance of rain later in the aftenoon; 23C
Tuesday Cloudy with some sun; 23C