Former Australia captain Ricky Ponting has added weight to Kevin Pietersen's claims that a 'bullying' culture existed in the England team set-up.
Among a series of controversial revelations in his new autobiography, Pietersen claimed a clique led by the bowlers made life tough for younger players by demanding apologies for any mistakes they made in the field.
One of the bowlers referred to was Graeme Swann, who has responded by branding Pietersen's book as "codswallop" and claiming "there was absolutely no bullying".
Ponting, however, who captained Australia between 2004 and 2011, has rowed in behind Pietersen’s, saying he witnessed the haranguing of fielders at close quarters.
Ponting told Australia's Daily Telegraph: "We saw them doing it, (James) Anderson was always the same, and Swann. The pointing of fingers and you'd hear a few expletives if there was a misfield or a dropped catch. The guys who were doing it were the so-called leaders. That's where the captain has got to come in, not wait and let little things turn into big things. That's what it sounds like has happened in this England team."
Ponting was not involved in the back-to-back Ashes series of 2013 and 2014, which culminated in England’s 5-0 hammering in Australia last winter and saw Pietersen sacked in the aftermath. But the 39-year-old did captain Australia in four previous series and says evidence of bullying had been there some time.
He said: “They had a lot of very good players that were able to achieve a lot of success as a team. But if you could just get inside of them and start pulling them apart, we always had a feeling they would implode pretty quickly and that’s what’s happened over the past 12 months.
“I wasn’t surprised with (Jonathan) Trott (leaving the Ashes tour), I wasn’t surprised with Swann retiring when he did. When the ship started to go down, he jumped off pretty quickly, and now all the Pietersen stuff.”
Pietersen tweeted a link to a story containing Ponting’s quotes to his near two million Twitter followers with the remark: “Please read this”
Pietersen has told his side of the story of his sacking in KP: The Autobiography, which goes on sale on Thursday, following the expiry of a confidentiality clause agreed when his England and Wales Cricket Board contract was severed.
The ECB has not commented on Pietersen’s claims, but will come under increasing pressure to do so as the controversy continues to rage.
Pietersen undertook a marathon series of interviews on Tuesday to publicise his book, culminating in a question-and-answer session in front of a live audience of paying guests in Manchester.
As he did so, a document cataloguing his alleged misdemeanours in Australia last winter was apparently leaked to the Cricinfo website.
The ECB stressed it was not a dossier of Pietersen's conduct, as long-rumoured to have been compiled by former coach Andy Flower, but did not deny its allegations.
The report claimed Pietersen broke a curfew, told a physiotherapist he would be keen to return home to rest his problematic knee if England fell 3-0 down and branded Cook as “weak” and “tactically inept”.
It also alleged Pietersen was derogatory about Flower and Swann and suggested his friendship with celebrity journalist and TV host Piers Morgan was unhealthy.
Pietersen, when asked about the document, claimed it was “embarrassing” for the ECB.
One of the entries misspelled captain Alastair Cook’s first name as Alistair.
Pietersen added: “They couldn’t even spell Cooky’s name right. It is a joke. I am done with it. It is so embarrassing I don’t want to give it any thought. I am just getting on with my life.”
Ponting’s remarks come after Nottinghamshire paceman Ajmal Shahzad, who played 11 one-day internationals and one Test between 2010 and 2011, also added credence to Pietersen’s assertions, referring to a culture of forced apologies.
Wicketkeeper Matt Prior, another player heavily criticised by Pietersen over the issue, has said he will have his right of reply in due course.