January 4, 2012

Everyone's invited to cricket's giant virtual bar

Twitter is a medium that has changed the way we follow the game, and how it is reported - not to mention how players talk about it

When @jonawils said, "Beautiful. The series is one ball old and you're talking no eights..." he was talking to @garynaylor999. Of course, it was via Twitter, and not a real interaction, where you could have seen the leftover garlic pizza on @garynaylor999's chin, or the weird shape of @jonawils' thighs. @jonawils and @garynaylor999 have had countless discussions in real life about the roles of No. 8 batsmen in Test cricket. In fact, @garynaylor999 and anyone who will listen have had many conversations about the roles of No. 8s in Test cricket.

This was Australia v India, Boxing Day, at the G, and fans all over the world were deep in Twitter conversations. @homertweets, in Cleveland, suggested that @thecricketcouch had brought the hail to Melbourne. @plalor, tweeting from the press box, chatted to everyone, and retweeted their chatter to him. @omairzahid, @Lexi_Jane_B, @sehwagology and @legsidelizzy commented and chatted along with the action. All deep in farcical and intellectual arguments about the match they were watching.

This sort of interaction, conversation and society turn Twitter into a giant cricket bar. You can hang out with your friend who likes to search club stats, or the yelly friend who spends most of his time abusing everyone (even those who agree with him). If you feel the need, you can nosily stand near the VIP section and listen to the celebrities chat, and give your thoughts to the big names in the game. The good news is that when someone bores, insults or disgusts you, it's just a simple unfollow, or even a blocking. Unlike in a bar, you don't have to find a good seat, deal with drunks, or leave your house. You can sit in your dirtiest underwear, on your biscuit-infested sofa with bits of cheese stuck to your chest, and still be part of a civilised cricket chat with the editor of Wisden, @the_topspin, or the editor of Wisden India, @SpiceBoxofEarth. While chatting to you they are probably also sitting in their dirty house, wearing stained underwear.

Newspapers have deadlines; Twitter has a button that says "tweet". While cricket writers are still working out what they want to say about an issue, you've read hundreds opinions on Twitter, some nonsensical, some brilliant, some both. It's so instantaneous that often the story will spread all around Twitter long before anyone has had a chance to post something on a news site. Live debates over the DRS flare up daily between fans, writers and players.

Whether you think of Twitter as social networking's version of T20 or not, it is a major player in the watching, administering and, occasionally, playing of cricket.

Don't like what a commentator says (or, in the case of @blewy214, his profile picture), tell him. Maybe a cricketer has played a rubbish shot? Abuse him for it. Even feel free to contact @lalitkmodi directly and tell him how evil or wonderful you think he is.

They're not all on Twitter, and some who are don't tweet or interact that much, but Twitter allows a 24-hour conversation on one of the world's few 24-hour games, and gives you access to banter (as the players call it) all the time.

And it is the 24-hour, unedited nature of Twitter that worries the cricket boards. The PCB allegedly banned their players from using the social network. The ECB has tried to set strict rules for theirs. And CA keeps a very close eye on their players. That doesn't stop cricketers from randomly tweeting what they feel. Although in some cases players still have ghost tweeters, sending out tweets.

@crickettas' victory in the Shield last season was definitely improved by the fact that the long, long after-party was shown in pictorial glory by the players involved. Most of the time you couldn't tell who was in the photo, what they were doing, or even make much sense of the descriptions, but you were closer to the disgusting drunken victory antics than you would otherwise be. And it's not just Tasmanians spreading the access. Photos from dressing rooms across the world have come through - including an accidental penis shot by @DaleSteyn62, who was trying to show the success of a domestic win for his Cape Cobras, but showed so, so much more. That photo may not be to everyone's taste, but you can't argue that @DaleSteyn62 wasn't giving an insider's look, warts and all.

The first major cricketer who really used twitter is not really a surprise: it is the one who also first used unedited blogging to raise his profile. For @iainobrien, Twitter was just another way of getting his profile raised and interacting with fans. A tweet is a lot easier than writing a blog, and soon it wasn't just @iainobrien signing on - cricketers took to Twitter in a slow and awkward way.

Then it looked like one tweet might stop it all, when @ph408 (Phil Hughes' deleted account) tweeted his omission from the Australian side for the third Test of the 2009 Ashes before the team had been announced. It turned out that it wasn't actually Hughes who had tweeted. He had texted his agent, who had contacted his IT guy. This is still the least efficient way to tweet. At that stage most experienced cricket journalists had to learn what Twitter was. Twitter was a story in cricket possibly for the first time, but thanks to a bunch of English cricketers, that continued.

Newspapers have deadlines; Twitter has a button that says "tweet". While cricket writers are still working out what they want to say about an issue, you've read hundreds opinions on Twitter, some nonsensical, some brilliant, some both

The fans were brought into the cricketers' world, which to be honest does seem to revolve around going to Nando's, the nets or the gym, and playing whatever computer gaming device they have. It also gave the players ample chance to get in trouble. Some possibly didn't appreciate that their missives really went out to the whole world.

@timbresnan gave us the first "foul-mouthed Twitter rant", when he reacted badly to someone photoshopping him looking larger than usual. That was followed by @kevinpp24's badly tweeted attempt at a direct message, @dimimascarenhas's drunken late-night (and then mid-morning follow-up) dissing of Geoff Miller, and my personal favourite, @az33m's effort to get caught slagging off his ECB Under-19 coach on Twitter, even though he only had 17 followers at the time.

Cricketers from each country use it differently. To terribly stereotype each player based on each country would be wrong, but easy. The English players use it for banter with each other. The Australian players use it to satisfy sponsors and cricket boards. Indian players use it to thank people for tweeting nice messages to them. South African players use it to quote the Bible, or any sort of inspirational quote. And West Indian players use it for wacky sexual innuendo, abusing their board and publicising their birthday parties.

The best tweeter in cricket must be @tinobest, whose Twitter feed suggests that he should really have his own reality show. Only @tinobest can easily switch between tweets on having great sex, Christ, and a stunning attack on Nasser Hussain. While most players are careful about what they say, @tinobest seems to have almost no filter at all, and it is an entertaining odd rollercoaster. If @tinobest was an English or Australian cricketer, his Twitter profile would make several press officers quit their jobs.

He is an exception, though. With most players not saying all that much, the best Twitter accounts are often the fake player accounts. @FakeShaneWatson is the highlight. If the real Shane Watson has a sense of humour and spare cash, when he comes to Twitter, he should pay @FakeShaneWatson to continue to tweet for him. Sometimes when a player does come to Twitter, the fake version of him goes quiet. Like how the imitation you do of your teacher may make your classmates laugh, but it's gutsier to pull it off with the teacher in earshot. Still, a highlight of the fake Twitter player trend was when @AaronFinch5 admitted he had been showing @Peter_Siddle the @FakePeterSiddle tweets.

@MClarke23 very nearly revolutionised how the game is reported after his decision to stay and wait for the DRS and not just walk when @kevinpp24 took his wicket in Adelaide. Instead of talking to @wwos9, @abcgrandstand or the waiting cricket writers, like @malcolmconn, @johnt237 or @chloejane32, he tweeted his apology only minutes after the debacle happened. Why wait for banal press conferences and carefully scripted interviews if Twitter can give us instant access in poorly constructed textspeak?

Unsurprisingly it was @sachin_rt who made Twitter almost melt down. When @sachin_rt joined Twitter, his profile gained followers at a rate that even @virendersehwag couldn't match when batting. So far @sachin_rt has tweeted nine times more than his highest Test score, but his best tweet had to be the one that verified it was him, eyes half-closed, sponsor singlet on and lying back in what appears to be a bed. @sachin_rt even does bad Twitter self-portraits better than most.

Twitter brings out the best and worst in players. Casual racism, sexism and confusing social views are mixed in with tweets for charitable organisations, support for team-mates and building friendship with fans. Some players may talk about their latest score on a computer game, but others use it when they're lonely, bored or blue. More than a few use it as a means for keeping their spirits up when they're away from loved ones.

The players you liked before they got on Twitter may not be the players you like after they're on Twitter, and vice versa. If you want to learn something personal about your favourite player, Twitter will give you that, and probably more. It's a brilliant way of getting close to your heroes, but you know what they say about getting to know your heroes. If you're lucky enough you can meet them at their local Nando's when they mention what branch they are eating in.

The cricket media took their time getting to Twitter. It's not surprising either - the cricket media isn't really the computer-using smartphone generation. Some got a tough time when they entered. If you write for a paper in Australia, England or India, you can afford to write jingoistic nonsense. If you're on Twitter, you have to spend your days defending what you've written.

Commentators are also fair game. @bhogleharsha and @BumbleCricket give themselves chances to give their opinions off microphone, but it also gives their haters (and what commentator is universally loved?) an easy way to abuse them.

Twitter also gives a commentator or writer instant stories. They can bring up something the player has said on Twitter, or like in the case of @warne888, devote whole stories to their tweets (and, lest we forget, he first got to know @ElizabethHurley through Twitter, and the rest, as they say, is history).

The biggest problem the cricket media often have, though, is trying to fit in a named XI into 140 characters. Perhaps it's only a matter of time before everyone follows the lead of @ph408.

Cricket's biggest story of recent times was the career suicide of @lalitkmodi. It may yet turn out to be one of the most important moments in cricket history. And it all started on twitter. @lalitkmodi's warm-up was tweeting about a cricketer not playing in the IPL owing to match-fixing allegations. A lawsuit followed. Then he went further and pushed buttons with politicians, and their ladies, when he tweeted the equity arrangements of Rendezvous, a bidder for an IPL franchise. @lalitkmodi is a smart man, and perhaps he would have said these two things publicly anyway, but Twitter enabled him to do so with the utmost simplicity. He didn't have to talk to anyone; he just picked up one of his several smartphones and pressed "send". If Kerry Packer had used Twitter, perhaps the cricket landscape now would be very different.

There are many more stories from the world of Twitter that I could tell you, but @mitchmarsh235 has just tweeted me asking to get him a date with pop star.

I'll leave you with this from @maddo53, a superstar young batsman from Australia who may go on to have a ten-year Test career: "If I had blonde hair and big b****, would I have more followers??" It's an interesting question, and something that cricket fans like @jonawills and @garynaylor999 can have a good chat about.

You can abuse Jarrod about this article, or his whole career, at @cricketwballs