David Lister: Tweet your way to sporting failure

Cricketers intent on sharing their musings are just asking for trouble
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Great sporting conflicts sometimes earn their own nicknames. The most famous Ashes battle was the Bodyline series. I have a name for the current series. It's not quite as grand and menacing as Bodyline, though it's almost as painful. I call this series the Twitter Tests.

There is a new and strange phenomenon of sportsmen giving us their thoughts through Twitter, not even after the match has ended, but during the match, tweeting to the world their predictions for the next day's play. OK, they are normally pretty mundane – "It will be hard work for the groundsman" etc – but sometimes over the last week or two they have illustrated the fact that sportsmen have no sense of hubris.

The Today programme read out one England bowler's Twitter entry, saying he would like to take five wickets on the last day's play of the third Test. Inevitably, the whole team didn't even take five wickets that day. Why set yourself up for failure in that way?

It could have been worse. It was. A week earlier, Australian batsman Phillip Hughes tweeted that he had been dropped before the official team selection was announced. Then there was an injury and he could have been reinstated – had the selectors not been furious at his unauthorised tweeting. The Greeks would have appreciated that one too.

It's not just cricketers who are spending time with new technology when they could be training. Spurs footballer Darren Bent, in a less than brilliant career move, managed to insult his club chairman in the requisite number of Twitter words, most of them short ones. Have these guys worked out that it's not just their friends and fans who read their tweets?

It's a dangerous game, this playing with Twitter by sportsmen. And it's especially dangerous mid-series or even mid-match. What is it with cricketers wanting to convey their ambitions to the world before they even take to the field? Don't they realise that their words will come back to haunt them?

But there's something else that niggles me about the tweeting sportsmen. It's that I'm not sure I want to read their musings, and be reminded how prosaic they are. I want to think of them as heroes, men of few words but full of strategy, bursting with feats yet to be delivered. I want to picture them alone with their thoughts of an evening, silently planning the downfall of the enemy, not whingeing that they have been dropped, or saying like an 11-year-old to his mum, "Hope I take five wickets." I want the mystique of the aloof, superhuman sporting hero back. I don't want gossips with a grudge.

How much of that mystique might have disappeared if there had been Twitter in another age of sporting heroes: "You can forget me training for the United-City derby. I'm going to a club then back to her place" – George Best. "I'm aiming to score four in the final" – Geoff Hurst. "Mind your own business, lad. We'll do our talking on t'field" – Brian Clough.

That one, at least, I could relate to. I want my sporting heroes to be strong, silent, enigmatic and unpredictable. And such heroes don't tweet.