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Michael Vaughan and his Twitter misdemeanours

Michael Vaughan © Getty Images
Michael Vaughan is once again in controversy after his remarks on Indian cricket team © Getty Images

Michael Vaughan’s tweet about the white Indian flag did not go down too well with the Indian fans. Arunabha Sengupta writes that it is not the first time the former England captain has crossed a fine line with insensitive tweets.

The typical image of the former England cricket captain is of temperate, unobtrusive dignity. Dapper men, readily recognisable, governed by the archetypal British characteristic of the stiff upper lip.

Of course there was the loud, larger than life image of Tony Greig, and the maverick, mercurial charisma of Ian Botham. But then, strictly speaking, the former was a South African and the latter should never have led England or, according to some, should not have been born in the country.

There are other exceptions. Archie MacLaren drifted about penniless and borrowed money way too often, and recently Andrew Flintoff — another like Botham (whose claims to the job remain questionable) — never really outgrew his truant schoolboy image. But if we look at men of the stature of Arthur Gilligan, Gubby Allen, Wally Hammond, or even the post-playing days of Douglas Jardine, to the post-War leaders in Len Hutton, Colin Cowdrey, Peter May, Ted Dexter, right up to the modern day skippers like Nasser Hussain, Michael Atherton, Alec Stewart and Andrew Strauss, the image is of sober and sophisticated men voicing opinions with restraint, poise and discretion.

Michael Vaughan, however, is an exception in his own unique way.

Not many former England skippers would have been ready to shake their legs and swing their hips in the BBC television show Strictly Come Dancing, but this Yorkshireman did. Partnering the gorgeous professional dancer Natalie Lowe, Vaughan was clearly all at sea in every dance form — perhaps apart from the quickstep. Yet, he went through the experience, tied up in knots, suffering week after week of embarrassment. His movements remained stilted, the ballroom forms found him gawky, awkward, the Latin dances made a mockery of his non-existent hip movements, and ultimately, after a rather tepid and technically ridiculous Samba, he was voted out of the event. Every move that he made through the show were ghastly in contrast to the elegance that had accompanied his cover-drives.

Of course he was invited as a celebrity to participate in the contest. One can at most squirm at but not argue with his decision to inflict his talentless off-beat pantomime on the television audience — British and beyond. After all, the only toes he could have trodden on belonged to the lovely Natalie Lowe.

However, it seems that Vaughan is bereft of the qualities of moderation that seem to accompany the other former captains. The restraint seems to hold him back only when he is required to lose his inhibitions and let his hair down during the salsa numbers. And he is rather prone to inflict upon the world certain of his antics that are rather far from being his greatest talent.

So, apart from terming the Indian team as the ‘Rabble who have given up’, he also tweeted the picture of a white flag — calling it the new Indian cricket flag. This time he had stepped on the toes of a great many Indian cricket fans, with a step as clumsy and graceless as those seen in his samba. And the fans did not take it too lightly. When asked by various individuals to behave in the manner of a former England captain, and reminded that England had also virtually carried the same flag in Australia not too many months ago, Vaughan tweeted rather adamantly, “Indian cricket fans just accept it’s banter…. Your team haven’t performed.”

The picture of the white flag was perhaps used simply to underline the abject surrender, but when one tampers with the image of the national flag of a country as populous as India, it is tantamount to playing with fire. National sentiments flow in different ways and can be easy to hurt, and Vaughan would have been expected to have enough maturity to know that the tweet had the potential to offend many.

Apart from the disrespect towards the national flag inferred by many sensitive fans, the other objections were succinctly summarised by one solitary tweet  from ThatCricketGuy with the Twitter handle @MikkhailVaswani: “Don’t be petty @MichaelVaughan . Behave like a former captain. Not some time ago Ur flag also wore the same look . #crybaby”

Banter between fans can assume far more serious proportions. But with thousands hanging on to their words, former cricketers — especially who have played enough cricket to lead their country — cannot really exercise all the liberty that can be granted to a faceless individual. Call it the price of fame, call it the weight of expectations on a public figure, whatever you choose to term it there is some responsibility that comes with being a popular commentator on the game. Keyed in and shared by a former England captain, one has to say that the tweet wasin very bad taste.

This is not the first time, though, that Vaughan has been guilty of such inflammable tweets. During the last visit of India in 2011, VVS Laxman had survived a confident shout for a catch at Trent Bridge. The Decision Review System had ruled in his favour and the stylish Indian batsman had gone on to score a fifty. And Vaughan had tweeted, “Has Vaseline on the outside edge saved the day for Laxman?”

His rather caustic remark had hinted that Laxman had smeared Vaseline on his bat to beat the Hotspot technology. Not only was the allegation baseless and unfounded, it rode on a spurious urban myth that a touch of Vaseline can somehow help bypass the thermal imaging technology. There has been no scientific proof of the same. And, in the opinion of many Indian followers, accusing someone like VVS Laxman of cheating was carrying it too far.

When the Indian fans had responded angrily, Vaughan had tweeted, “I think their [sic] has been a slight over reaction to Vaseline gate… Taken to court!!!?? Sense of humour required for many I think…”

As the flag incident shows, Vaughan may not be the most qualified person to pontificate about sense of humour, especially on Twitter-verse. Sense of humour, although extremely necessary to withstand week after week of his dance numbers, could hardly have helped in these cases. In fact the less he indulges in his own brand of instant thoughtless 140-character ‘humour’, the healthier will be the interactions surrounding the so-called banter.

Complete coverage of India’s tour of England 2014

(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/senantix)

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