Smith: Pietersen a match-winner
Kevin Pietersen still boasts the match-winning genius that could have helped Alastair Cook answer fundamental captaincy questions and reinvigorate "stale" England, according to Graeme Smith.
- Related Content
Former South Africa skipper Smith admitted he was surprised at England's decision to jettison Pietersen after their disastrous Ashes winter whitewash in Australia.
Ankle surgery ruined Smith's first campaign at Surrey after signing a three-year deal with the club last summer, but now the 33-year-old is fit and itching to line up alongside Pietersen for the new season.
Cook has claimed sacking Pietersen was the "brave" and correct decision, but ex-Proteas skipper Smith believes England should have found a way to persevere with his Surrey team-mate.
"I'm uninformed just speaking from an outsider's perspective, but it would be surprising when you have a really quality player like that, and you wouldn't try to make it work," said Smith of 34-year-old Pietersen.
"He's in the middle of his career, has a few good years left in him.
"If there's a guy in his last two seasons and he's becoming grumpy, then you start to look at things differently.
"But Kevin's still got plenty of energy, he's fit, healthy and still performing well: it was surprising.
"I think it's always disappointing when those things [confidentiality agreements] start getting in the way of cricket.
"I would have thought the environment could have managed him.
"A match-winner like that, performing well and motivated: you just can't help looking at the Twenty20 World Cup and thinking he would have added value.
"It's always nice to have a player like that: who you know can walk out and win you a game single-handedly.
"And it's nice to build teams around people like that.
"Players like that can single-handedly win you a semi-final or a big contest that can ultimately win you a competition, so I'm excited to have him around."
Smith retired from Test cricket in March, ending a stellar 109-match stint as South Africa captain.
The gritty top-order batsman assumed the South Africa captaincy after just eight Tests, guiding the Proteas to the top of the world game.
Admitting England face a battle to rebuild brittle confidence after a horrendous winter, Smith said Pietersen's regular availability is a huge bonus for Surrey, who start their LV=County Championship Division Two campaign on Sunday, hosting Glamorgan at The Oval.
"England to me look a little stale, they look like they need new energy, they look like they need a direction, someone to galvanise them," said Smith.
"He [Cook] obviously needs to answer some important questions in his role: do the players trust him.
"It's going to take a lot of energy, captaining and opening the batting is a really taxing job, so he's also going to have to focus on performing.
"If he scores runs it will really help his captaincy.
"He knows what direction he wants to take the players in, the type of people he wants; once he makes those decisions he's got to really back it and go for it.
"You can't expect everything to be rosy and perfect all the time.
"If he's learned from this experience and understands where he needs to go, good for him.
"I think it's a huge bonus for us though, to have a match-winner like Kevin, a powerhouse, crowd-puller, as part of our team, I know the club is excited.
"He's motivated, which is wonderful, and we're looking forward to it.
"He's got a huge amount of international experience, performed all around the world, so I think it would be naive of us not to use him, not to try to get the best out of him, especially with him motivated and wanting to do well.
"He seems to have a real soft spot for Surrey, and from my perspective I'm looking forward to having him around."
Smith endured a fractious rivalry with South Africa-born Pietersen in Test combat, but insisted their relationship is now building steadily.
"It is good, we don't spend a huge amount of time together so it needs to develop," said Smith.
"We're in contact, we chat when we're in places we can catch up.
"There's no doubt it was very competitive at a younger age, and maybe at certain parts once the media and public get hold of it, it grows.
"But I think underneath it all it's been a lot calmer and steadier and good over the last part of my career."