ENGLAND came out fighting this morning after Kevin Pietersen was accused of throwing beer over South African fans.
While Andrew Strauss’s men fought for survival on the hottest day in Cape Town this summer, back home in freezing England they were under attack in The Sun newspaper after they ran a story headlined: “KP in beer fling fury at fans.”
Though today’s edition of The Sun will not be available in South Africa until next week, it is clearly flagged up in the on-line edition and has created a stir with over 5,000 Barmy Army fans in Cape Town for the closely contested third Test.
England’s media manager Andrew Walpole, a former Daily Mail journalist, told me: “Don’t go near that story, Neal. It’s a complete fabrication. Neither Kevin Pietersen nor any of the other England players were involved in any kind of incident.
“There was no beer thrown from our balcony. A freelance gave The Sun the story and we told them last night there was absolutely no truth in it.
“We are very angry and we are in contact with the ECB lawyers in London over this story. It is complete rubbish.”
But the story has been picked up by many of the cricketing web sites and respun, which will make life hard for the under pressure Pietersen, who was born in South Africa but chose to play for England.
The Sun quote a local fan, Socrates Georgiades, 37, as saying: " It was great to see him get out for a duck so we decided to give him some stick and sang 'Pietersen is a knob' a couple of times.
"Jonathan Trott and the other England boys were laughing at us. You could see they were treating it as good-natured banter. But Pietersen got nasty and retaliated by throwing beer all over us.
“Clearly the pressure is getting to him. Pietersen should have taken it on the chin. The Barmy Army do this sort of thing the whole day."
Jon Etheridge, the Sun journalist whose name appeared on the story, told me: "It was filed by a freelance and he's standing by it. But I think we're taking it off the website and it would be very out of character for KP. He's been on a charm offensive throughout this tour."
Pietersen has certainly taken more stick in Cape Town than he did in the drawn first Test in Centurion or during England’s huge win at his former home ground in Durban after Christmas.
And though the former captain has scored a few runs – including a fine 81 in Centurion which was ended by a suicidal run-out – he has succeeded in getting himself out again and again in this series just when he looked set to dominate. Yesterday’s second-ball duck came at a particularly bad time for England, who slumped to 36-3 with his dismissal.
Matt Prior’s unbeaten 76 helped push the tourists to within 18 of South Africa’s first innings 291 this morning and the ever-reliable Graeme Swann, toiling in the heat, dislodged an unhappy Ashwell Prince lbw for 15.