Strauss 'mortified' at Pietersen slur
Andrew Strauss, the former England captain, has made a shame-faced public apology to Kevin Pietersen after he was inadvertently caught on air describing him as a "c***" from the back of the TV commentary box at Lord's.
Strauss, part of the commentary team for the MCC's bicentenary celebration match against the Rest of the World, thought he was off air, but the feed was still being broadcast on some channels and viewers using the Fox Sports app in Australia caught the expletive.
It was not long before Strauss' faux pas was being gossiped around the world with former England captain Adam Hollioake one of the first to exclaim with surprise on Facebook.
"I apologise unreservedly, particularly to Kevin Pietersen," Strauss said, as his error became public knowledge. "I am mortified and profusely sorry."
His co-commentator, Michael Atherton, another former England captain, remarked: "I think that's covered it; let's move on." But there will be no moving on for a while as Pietersen's supporters will find just cause to rail against the double standards they perceive to be at the heart of English cricket.
Sky TV also felt obliged to apologise for Strauss' stray remark - although only for the bad language. It tweeted: "Earlier comments were made during a break of play which were heard overseas. We apologise for the language used."
Two years ago, Pietersen famously incurred the ECB's wrath by texting that Strauss was a "doos", an Afrikaans word that strictly speaking means "box" but which has similar connotations to Strauss' remark. Except some linguists might point out that "doos" can also be slang for idiot, whereas c*** pretty much leaves nothing to the imagination.
Pietersen's comment on Strauss came midway through a Test at Headingley against South Africa in 2012, and was made to a South African player who, whether by accident or design, allowed it to reach the public domain. The ECB saw it as evidence of an outright rebellion against an England captain; Strauss has written that he never entirely trusted Pietersen again after that point.
Strauss, twice an Ashes-winning captain, retired following South Africa's 2-0 win in that series. He reflected soon afterwards on the brouhaha in his autobiography, Driving Ambition. He wrote: 'For me, he had crossed the line. He seemed to be at best destabilising and at worst undermining our carefully cultivated team environment."
Both insults were, in essence, private communications that entered the public domain. The difference is that Pietersen and Strauss were team-mates in the first instance, charged with maintaining at least the pretence of unity.
Pietersen's comments effectively cost him his international career. He had to undergo a theatrical "process of reintegration" before he was allowed back into the England fraternity. Then he began to show impatience with the careworn captaincy of Alastair Cook, Strauss' successor, during a demoralising 5-0 whitewash in Australia and he was removed for good at the end of the series with the ECB stating it wanted to rebuild the "team ethic and philosophy".
Paul Downton, the MD of England cricket, has since called Pietersen "a man of too many agendas" and claimed he did not have a single supporter in the side - a claim furiously dismissed by Pietersen.
There were immediate calls from Pietersen supporters for Strauss to suffer the same fate. But Strauss has retired; such an outcome is impossible. 'Then sack him from his Sky contract,' will come the cry. Such a taste for revenge would make the response even more disproportionate, but modern life, with every dot and comma analysed on social media, is laced with a desire for blood.
Predictably, Piers Morgan, chat-show host, former tabloid editor and Pietersen confidant, was the first to do just that. Prior to Strauss' apology, he tweeted: "If Strauss story is true then he'll have to be fired, surely? Or is a commentator calling @KP24 a 'c**t' on air acceptable @SkyCricket?
"After all, Strauss himself axed KP from his England team for allegedly saying similar things about him that weren't even broadcast."
That Pietersen and Strauss, despite their shared South African roots, do not get on is not news. Everybody knew as much. That a stray insult was made when Strauss presumed he was off air would also not normally be news. But any suspicion of double standards in this tawdry, overblown soap opera is news and, as such, Strauss' remarks need to be made public.
When Pietersen, to his horror, was outed in 2012, he tried to influence public opinion by issuing a fulsome apology on YouTube, only to make the ECB even more angry because of his presumption.
Strauss will suffer his shame privately. There will be shame because he knows his public perception will have faltered as a result. There will be shame, too, because he made his slip during the MCC bicentenary match and because as a natural conservative, a proud believer in tradition, to have slipped up at Lord's will feel even worse.
He can no longer hold the moral high ground. Until today, it is a privileged position from where he has observed this whole, shoddy, tiresome business. He is now down in the gutter, wallowing around with the rest of us.
David Hopps is the UK editor of ESPNcricinfo