Amid some excitement yesterday, the talk was about the precise difference between provocative and derogatory. In his reluctantly offered mea culpa about text messages, Kevin Pietersen coughed to the former but not the latter.
Perhaps it was like the difference between assaults occasioning actual and grievous bodily harm, both pretty nasty but one lesser than the other, a slap across the wrists as opposed to a slash. In those terms, England are now deciding the depth of Pietersen's guilt and betrayal of trust – a slap or a slash? If it comes down to the semantics of adjectives he is done for but that was the way it seemed to be headed after the joint and unsatisfactory statements issued by the player and his employer yesterday.
This affair has been a trial, in every sense, by social media. So far, text messages, Twitter and YouTube have all featured along the way. The statements were issued by email but that is distinctly old hat. Without any of them, it is safe to presume that none of it would have happened.
It is ridiculous that it has come to this in this way. South Africa, whose captain, Graeme Smith, will do well to avoid laughing all the way to the toss today, could hardly believe it. England did not really know how to cope with it.
The issue – Pietersen v the rest – has been turned into a mess from which neither side will easily be able to extricate themselves. It is becoming plain that it has reached this unpretty pass because it was allowed to rumble on too long.
Perhaps the catalyst for Pietersen's eventual dropping was in his unfortunate press conference after the second Test match at Headingley. The likelihood is that Pietersen stepped into that cramped dining room that evening because he reckoned that he was untouchable.
He had been in dispute with England's management for weeks, if not months, about the terms of his contract and he, if not his advisers, assumed that the brilliant 149 put him in an impregnable position. That was almost, though not quite, the last in a series of mistakes that Pietersen has made lately.
It would be a mistake to exonerate England and their management completely from blame. They have been pushed into a corner by Pietersen's demands and his negotiating tactics but, with the management team they have in place, they should have seen it coming.
They can hardly claim his behaviour is unprecedented. It was what led to his being deposed as captain early in 2009 and, though he has been embraced by England in the months and years since, there is a trait in his personality that needs regular feeding.
His antics have been an open secret for months and have certainly affected the mood of the coach, Andy Flower. It is difficult to know precisely what could have been done, but then, that is the job of Hugh Morris, the managing director of England cricket. It is what he was brought in to do.
Morris is not afraid to make tough decisions, as he showed in two crises close together, the Mumbai terrorist attacks and the first Pietersen imbroglio, which spanned 2008 and 2009, but he will be asking himself if he could and should have intervened at an earlier stage this time, headed Pietersen off at the pass, as it were.
If Pietersen has betrayed the trust of Strauss by sending provocative texts, then that is a heinous thing. But South Africa are not alone in being aghast that it should make Pietersen's position irrevocable.
There is another element in this, which Strauss touched on yesterday when he said everybody had to take a long hard look at what had happened. Until this year, England enjoyed almost two years of unfettered success, two Ashes triumphs followed by accession to No 1 Test side.
Without anybody realising it, or without anybody doing anything to stop it, a cabal has grown in the dressing room. Maybe this happens in all dressing rooms where players who have been there a long time and have contributed to a great deal of success get along well and know how good they are. This never included Pietersen and, although he has helped to cause his own downfall, others, as Strauss indicated, may ask why they treated him as they did. He was never going to be their friend but they made him their enemy.
Pietersen's apology yesterday was phrased in such a parsimonious fashion as hardly to warrant the description. But then there was no evidence that England were about to meet him halfway.
It is like this in all industrial disputes where aggrieved parties cannot bring themselves to admit fault or concede ground. At present, it is difficult to know what might happen. Pietersen should play for England again because he is a darned good batsman, box office as they say. But in that dressing room now the deal is far from done.
'It was banter': Who said what yesterday
"I apologise to Straussy and the team for the inappropriate remarks at the press conference and for the texts. I truly didn't mean to cause upset or tension. The texts were meant as banter between close friends. I need to rein myself in sometimes." Kevin Pietersen
"A successful conclusion to the process was in everyone's best interests. Further discussions are needed to establish whether it is possible to regain the trust and mutual respect required." Hugh Morris (England MD)
"Adversity can bring you closer together. We have seen that before with us on a number of occasions. That is going to be the test of us this week. This is a great opportunity for us to show some strength and resolve." Andrew Strauss
"I find it quite amazing that it's still going on and that it has reached this point. In our dressing room it's something that's hardly been discussed – except the amount of time and coverage that it's getting." Graeme SmithReuse content