England v South Africa, 3rd Investec Test, Lord's August 15, 2012

South Africa have not set up Pietersen - Smith


The last time Graeme Smith showed such obvious signs of irritability at a press conference was during the 2011 World Cup. Constant use of the dread 'c-word' took its toll on the South African captain and he resorted to an assortment of belligerence, sarcasm and cynicism in reply.

Since then, South Africa's upward trend has meant Smith has seldom had to navigate his way through tricky lines of questioning. On Wednesday, that changed. Smith spent more than a third of his time in front of the press talking about Kevin Pietersen and it took only a few minutes to draw a snappy response from him.

"The notion that we have tried to nail Kevin or put things out in the media is just ridiculous. I've never heard such a load of rubbish," Smith said when asked if he had personally seen any of the messages. Smith said he had "seen nothing" of the messages and the content of conversations between Pietersen and any of the South Africa players was not a topic of discussion in their changing room.

"On this trip, we've played our cards close our chests. We've focused on the cricket, we haven't got involved in anything outside that and you can see that in the way we've played on the field. For us to be dragged into this is disappointing," Smith said.

Suggestions that South Africa leaked the messages to the media, to put Pietersen in an awkward position, have been played down since the story broke at the weekend. Team manager Mohammed Moosajee did not sway from his insistence that the texts were nothing but "friendly banter" although Pietersen has now confessed that they were "provocative".

Jacques Kallis' advice that opposition counterparts should be "careful" what messages they send each other during the match has been the only indication from the South Africa camp that there is more to the story.

Smith maintained that he had no knowledge of the exact wording of the texts but obviously knows something of their general mood. He said Pietersen chose an "interesting word" in describing them as provocative. "Kevin has relationships with people that he plays with, he has grown up with people, he has played IPL with people. Maybe he invited them for dinner, I don't know," Smith said. "I don't have any information that can make your stories better or more interesting."

One thing Smith could say with certainty was he was confident no one in his camp had deliberately set out to start a sideshow. "I honestly cannot say for one instant that one of our guys has done something wrong. I'm proud of the way the guys have handled themselves.

"In world cricket, people are always saying that you need to have better relations between teams, you need to socialise more, that's the way it used to be back in the old days, the professional era has taken that away and now you are saying to me we should just ignore each other."

He was careful not to absolve everyone, though. "Obviously Kevin feels he has done something wrong and he has apologised for that. Whether that's to get back into the England team or to sort out relationships, that is the process he has to take. From our perspective it's just been so overboard really. I can't believe it's still carrying on."

The Pietersen affair has resulted in a significant diversion from the series, which has gone to the final match to determine who the No.1 Test side will be. The advantage is with South Africa, as they are 1-0 up, and some may argue also because the absence of Pietersen will weaken England.

Kallis and AB de Villiers have implied that England would be poorer without Pietersen and their captain agrees. "He is a world-class cricketer. For England to say they are not going to miss him is wrong. The way he plays the game, the nature of what he offers England, they will miss that."

But he would not say that Pietersen's omission will give South Africa the upper hand. "There's a talent pool that we need to respect in England cricket. England have a large base of confidence that they've built up over a period of time and for us to take that for granted is not the way we prepared for this tour, not the way we train and not what we have come to achieve.

"Our focus will be on hopefully playing better cricket than England and not allowing our egos to get involved in whether Kevin is better than Jonny Bairstow. We are not going to get involved with that in our minds."

With the No.1 ranking only a draw away, Smith said South Africa have done everything they can to stay focused. "We've come to here to play cricket, we wanted to be the best team here," he said. "We want to play the better cricket than England. To get involved in this stuff is what we are trying to stay away from on this whole tour."

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Bob on August 16, 2012, 9:43 GMT

    I'm afraid there is a bit more to the Sth African influence in this matter than meets the eye. For instance, if as they claim, the texts were simply "banter between team mates", that ignores the fact that the recipients and Pietersen are NOT team mates..Also if the texts were as they say they were... why when this blew up were they deleted from the Sth Africans phones.. Why not simply hand them over to the ECB and this whole thing would have been defused. Even if the texts were deleted immediately after being read, there is still nothing to stop the Sth Africans from revealing their content. Their silence on this matter is somewhat baffling. How "matey" can KP and the recipients be if they won't come forward to defend him.. if indeed he is innocent. Of course it suits their ends to have KP out of the team for whatever reason, so their silence is understandable but it hardly smacks of being the sort of mates I'd want. No smoke without fire as they say.

  • Devan on August 16, 2012, 8:44 GMT

    This is crazy..trust people in England to place the blame on others for their own actions! South Africa have no business being in this childish affair and they will make their point by doing what they do best - playing cricket. As for England, the ECB and the players can keep going round and round in circles placing the blame on each other. The more media attention it gets, the more embarrassing it will get from an English perspective.

  • John on August 16, 2012, 8:22 GMT

    I don't believe that SA did anything to intentionally drop KP in it with regards to these text messages. Obviously someone in the SA camp would have to have talked about them for the information to have got out but, under the circumstances, why wouldn't they talk about them? I reckon that one person mentioned it as a point of interest to another within the SA team, who mentioned it to someone else and it simply passed along unchecked from person to person until it made it back to the England management. I sincerely hope that England do not ask SA to provide them with the actual content of the text messages because that would put SA in an unfair position, but I doubt it will happen. All that really matters is that KP sent some derogatory text messages that he shouldn't, whether or not he is sincerely sorry and whether or he and the team can get past it all and play together again. It's the intent that matters, not the content.

  • Ross on August 16, 2012, 8:12 GMT

    My personal take: The only member of the SA team in the Dehli squad is Morne Morkel. I think he probably asked Pietersen "Are you playing in the IPL now or what?" after Pietersen unretired. And then Pietersen sent something back like "Depends on the what the headmaster says" - a very light reference to the English management. Like the SA camp says - banter between teammates; and like others have said - everyone bitches to friends about their boss now and again. But it's been completely blown out of proportion, first by the egos in the ECB and secondly by Pietersen's contrition (making it appear to be something worth apologizing over). I doubt it was even half as bad as his tweet after the World T20. Thankfully we can focus on the cricket again!

  • Dummy4 on August 16, 2012, 6:29 GMT

    are bhai please give me today's playing eleven.

  • Satish on August 16, 2012, 4:49 GMT

    SA didn't do it but how did it get leaked? There were so many allegations on KP which were meant to stay within four walls or within two members.. Yes he is a ego but everyone else is playing with it..

  • James on August 16, 2012, 4:00 GMT

    Totally agree with Smith. SA didn't set KP up, why would they need to. He has made a career of putting both feet in his mouth. This bloke clearly needs time out in the naughty corner with computer and cellphone privileges removed permanently. @duncanmoo totally agree with you mate.

  • Duncan on August 15, 2012, 21:57 GMT

    Bla bla KP please no more KP articles, we are bored with them already!

  • Peter on August 15, 2012, 21:28 GMT

    Graeme Smith handled that well, now back to the cricket and time to finish the job.

  • Jason on August 15, 2012, 18:31 GMT

    Graham Smythe is a rely nyse guy and good as whell.... I hop that he forgets about this thing and hee can play nice & good. However he is tolkien about mite suffer whenn he & hiz kwix ballers start boelin at him... as I say he is good and shood be kaptan for longa... if he can get gett froo thiz sorry sitchewasion... and he is good .az wel

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