So you can call someone an "absolute c--t" on television nowadays and completely escape punishment, huh?
Well no, not exactly. But when it comes to English cricket, it just depends on who you are, or—more precisely—which side of the fence you sit on.
You see, modern cricket broadcasters work extremely closely with administrators and their boards, as explained in detail by Jarrod Kimber of ESPN Cricinfo. Like Channel Nine and Cricket Australia or Star TV and the BCCI, Sky and the ECB are tight-knit.
In this public-image-obsessed era where maintaining the support of the populace is required at all costs, it's to be expected.
So what's the issue?
As Kimber outlines, there is no more powerful avenue in the game than television commentary for shaping public perception:
Television and radio commentators are our frontline. If you don't like ESPNcricinfo because of Walt Disney, or you find the Guardian's cricket coverage too bleeding-heart liberal, there is always another cricket website or newspaper for you to go to. With commentary we are stuck with what we have. At best we can choose between two options - radio or TV - or, in dire situations, the mute button. This makes TV by far the most powerful tool in cricket.
And that's precisely why boards such as the ECB work so closely with their broadcaster, understanding that wider opinion is heavily pinned to those iconic voices in the commentary box.
So consider this: Had another commentator—say, Shane Warne—made the same remark about a player heavily involved with the current England administration—Alastair Cook, for example—would Warne have enjoyed the same leniency from the ECB and Sky?
You can arrive at your own conclusion there.
Tellingly, you only need to look back to the reaction from ECB chairman Giles Clarke to the Australian's criticism of Cook during the summer's first Test at Lord's to know that the England board doesn't want disapproving voices in Sky's box.
As reported by The Telegraph, Clarke even went to the broadcaster to express concerns regarding Warne's ongoing criticism:
We've discussed the matter with Sky. I've said that as a general principle we hope their commentators will be level and fair, and before every season we discuss that. Shane Warne was a great player but his opinion is of no relevance to us.
Of Clarke's words, none are more revealing than, "his opinion is of no relevance to us." Essentially, because Warne doesn't champion the ECB's cause, he's viewed as a hindrance to the board's seemingly apparent wish that Sky tows the governing body's line.
Strauss, however, is one of the most prominent identities supporting the ECB's stance on the axing of Pietersen.
Writing in his column for The Sunday Times (as relayed by the Daily Mail) following the announcement of the batsman's sacking, the former England captain said:
Without trust the team environment is stillborn. It is for this reason that Kevin Pietersen’s international career had to be brought to an end.
The media have been searching for a smoking gun but they are looking for the wrong thing. The smoking gun is the total absence of trust.
Old grievances came back to the surface. Past history weighed too heavily. Trust still did not exist.
Strauss' comments couldn't mirror the ECB's standpoint any more closely. In fact, if you weren't to know better, you could be excused for thinking those sentences were extracted from an ECB press release on the decision.
Thus, despite the unsavoury and unacceptable nature of Strauss' on-air blunder, it's not surprising that Sky has quickly declared the issue closed and scarcely a word has been uttered from the ECB.
Although an extreme extrapolation, the remark is in line with the board's position, and, therefore, isn't an issue for the broadcaster holding a contract with the board for the game's television rights.
And it's not as though the possibility of the ECB's influence on broadcasters—or those aspiring to join cricket's tightest clique—hasn't been apparent before.
Graeme Swann, one of the more personable and entertaining modern cricketers, seemed to reverse his opinion of Pietersen as a burgeoning media career became a possibility for the recently retired spinner, with the Daily Mail reporting that he'd been approached by Sky. While that has yet to come to fruition, Swann has begun to enjoy prominence with BBC Radio.
With regard to Pietersen, initially the former England star expressed shock that the renegade batsman had been sacked from the national team's setup.
In his column titled "Axing KP left me baffled" in The Sun (subscription required) in February, Swann spoke extremely positively of Pietersen's reintegration into the England side.
While acknowledging his initial resistance to the batsman's recall, the former England spinner praised the way his teammate handled himself during the team's disastrous tour of Australia:
He made a huge effort to improve his attitude around the dressing room. I saw or heard no issues with him in Australia this winter, his approach was exceptional.
That’s why I was baffled on Tuesday when he was effectively sacked as an England player.
Swann's opinion reflected the sentiment expressed by both Michael Carberry and Chris Tremlett regarding Pietersen.
"It was a big surprise, because I don’t think anyone saw that coming," Carberry told The Guardian, while Tremlett added: "From what I saw Kevin did nothing wrong, in my opinion, but be honest about what was happening."
Did Carberry and Tremlett take that stance to vent frustration that their respective international futures were likely over? Or, did the pair simply speak freely, understanding that there'd be no further consequences from the ECB after already being discarded from the England side?
Unlike Carberry and Tremlett, however, it would certainly do Swann's new media career no favours—at least, it seems, in the ECB's thinking—to maintain his view on Pietersen's behaviour while England were in Australia.
Whether by coincidence or not, he didn't.
Less than a month after penning his aforementioned column, the likeable off-spinner significantly altered his thoughts on the sacked batsman.
As relayed by The Telegraph, Swann said on BBC’s Test Match Special in late Febraury:
I’ve not heard of specific instances that took place on the last three weeks of the tour, when I wasn’t there, but little things are getting back to me. I was all for never having him back in the team after the Strauss affair [in 2012] but Cook and [Matt] Prior talked me round. Kevin is a world-class player but he does upset people wherever he goes.
That's a pretty substantial reversal to "I saw or heard no issues with him in Australia this winter."
The ECB, of course, doesn't enforce censorship over broadcasters, but it's no surprise that such a violent contradiction to the board's position on Pietersen is not in Swann's—or anyone else in the commentary box's—career interests.
All of this only further explains why Strauss escaped punishment for his on-air expletive. Among Sky's commentators, none have been more publicly supportive of the ECB's termination of Pietersen's international career.
So while the English board, in their close relationship with Sky, have clearly demonstrated that it's unacceptable to criticise the batting form and tactical approach of England's captain (was Warne wrong?), it's completely tolerable for someone to be labelled an "absolute c--t" on television.
Well, provided it's aimed at the ECB's least favourite cricketer.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!