London - Proteas captain Graeme Smith has said suggestions his side deliberately leaked text messages from Kevin Pietersen are "the biggest load of rubbish I have heard".
England will go into Thursday's third Test at Lord's without their star batsman after South African-born Pietersen was dropped last weekend, despite scoring 149 in the drawn second Test in Leeds, for failing to reveal the contents of those text messages, some of which were said to contain criticisms of England captain Andrew Strauss.
Pietersen apologised on Wednesday for the "provocative" texts but it was too late to win back his place in the team for a match starting on Thursday where the tourists only need to avoid defeat to replace England as the world's No 1 Test side.
Clearly, South Africa's task is easier if England's leading batsman is not playing but Smith, who has had plenty of run-ins with Pietersen in the past, insisted his team had not initiated the row, although the awkward question of how the texts got into the public arena remains.
"For us to be dragged into this has been disappointing," Smith said at Lord's on Wednesday.
"I heard (former England captain) Mike Atherton wrote a column about it saying we did it on purpose. That's the biggest load of rubbish I have heard - I can't believe it has got to that point.
"I think the notion that we have tried to 'nail' Kevin or put things out in the media is just ridiculous."
South Africa's management have described the texts as "banter" and opening batsman Smith was at a loss to understand how the issue had escalated to the stage of England dropping Pietersen.
"I have personally seen nothing (damaging in the texts)," said Smith. "I find it quite amazing that it's still going on and that it has reached this point.
"In our dressing room, it's something that's hardly been discussed - except the amount of time and coverage that it's getting.
"But obviously Kevin feels that he's done something wrong and he has apologised for that.
"From our perspective it's just been so overboard really. I can't believe it's still carrying on."
Smith, who on Thursday is set to break Australia great Allan Border's record of 93 Tests as captain by leading the Proteas for the 94th time, said England would struggle to fill the gap vacated by Pietersen.
"He is obviously a world-class cricketer, and for me to say they're not going to miss him is wrong," said Smith, whose 259 at Lord's in 2003 is the second-highest individual Test score at the 'home of cricket'.
"But there is a talent pool in England cricket that we need to respect, Jonny Bairstow (Pietersen's replacement) and the guys who have been given the opportunity," added Smith.
"We have come to play cricket; we wanted to be the best cricket team; we want to play better cricket than England - that's what we came here to do."