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Monday, 22 February 2010

England's training camp? Don't panic! I could have told you that two months ago!

THE SUN call it "as dump", the Express "Shambles"... the Daily Mail and Mirror have had a go today too. All lambasting the state of England's World Cup training camp currently under construction at Phokeng, near Rustenburg in deepest, darkest South Africa.
Truth is of course, if they'd read my blog, they'd have know it's nothing of the kind. If any of them had seen published before I sped off to the second cricket Test before Christmas, they'd have known the Royal Marang Hotel is only half finished.
Yes, the grass pitches are still being prepared, as are the five plastic pitches. But the complex, carefully hidden off the road to Boschhoek six kilometres from the Royal Bafokeng Stadium where England will play their opening Group C game against the USA on June 12, will be ready.
Funded by the Bafokeng tribe, who claim a slice of the platinum mine profits, this will be the finest high altitude training camp in the world. At 3,900ft above sea-level, the Australian and New Zealand rugby teams are already booked in to prepare for their Tri-Nations clashes. The All Blacks used to prepare at Swartkops High School, on a resurfaced rugby pitch some 300ft close to sea-level in Centurion, an hour away.
Now the Italians are consigned there, the USA will be training at the nearby Southdowns College, the Argentinians at Pretoria University's High Performance Centre, the Dutch at Wits University's Milpark.
All are inferior to England's base near Rustenburg. The FA have been on top of this one for months. Fabio Capello will visit there again tomorrow on his way to a coaching symposium at Sun City half an hour away.
As Mark Ferguson, head of security at the complex assured me: "We will be ready by May. Your Football Association officials fly in here all the time. You don't have to worry."
But, typically, the tabloids arrive, rustle up a couple of old pictures, and scream about "a dump" and "shambles".
It isn't. By the time the England squad arrive in early June, the Royal Bafokeng Sports Complex will be ready. Half of the five-star hotel opened in November, the other half will open in March. The pitches will be ready, the roads will be resurfaced. I've been saying this for two months. But do they listen?
How about the Germans? They're booked in to the Velmore Estate in Erasmia, nearer Centurion than Rustenburg. And their training pitch has only just been dug out... they'll be bringing the grass asap! The Australians are based at Kloofzicht, a lovely resort in Muldersdrift near Sandton, 20 miles away. But there isn't a decent football pitch within a half-hour drive.
So rest easy. As I told you two months ago, England have the best possible preparation for this World Cup. And an easy qualifying group against the Yanks, Slovenia and Algeria. It's winter, the weather will suit us, particularly for the games in Cape Town and Port Elizabeth. And if Fabio Capello's team win the group, they'll be playing their first knock-out match back in Rustenburg, just down the road from the training camp.
As far as Rustenburg goes, we do not need to panic. But if some clogger injures Wayne Rooney in the next three months, rush around screaming hysterically. That's where the key to our World Cup success, ending 44 years of hurt, really lies.

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Tuesday, 5 January 2010

England under fire from sun and The Sun, but emphatically deny KP threw beer at fans

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.

Prince, who had earlier survived on a referral after being given out caught behind, went to the television umpire Aleem Dar again but the electronic finger was firmly raised and South Africa were 31-1, 58 ahead with nine wickets in hand.
By lunch, they had moved on, worryingly, to 56-1 with Smith on 22 and Hashim Amla 14. The local Red Cross are saying "our biggest fear is a death in the crowd" as the temperatures soar.

Labels: beer, , fans, , summer heat,