London: Former South Africa captain Graeme Smith on Thursday expressed his surprise at England's decision to end the international career of his Surrey team-mate Kevin Pietersen. Pietersen, 33, was sensationally axed by England in the aftermath of their 5-0 Ashes whitewash in Australia, despite the South Africa-born batsman being his country's leading run-scorer across all formats.
England captain Alastair Cook this week described the England and Wales Cricket Board's decision to jettison Pietersen as a "brave call", but Smith feels that the ECB took its decision too hastily. "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.
"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."
Smith retired from international cricket in March after a 109-game run as South Africa captain and having seen his debut season at Surrey ruined by an ankle injury, he is eager to make up for lost time in 2014. Surrey begin their County Championship Division Two campaign on Sunday, hosting Glamorgan at The Oval, and Smith is excited by the prospect of taking to the crease alongside Pietersen.
"I think it's a huge bonus for us to have a match-winner like Kevin -- a powerhouse, crowd-puller -- as part of our team," Smith said. "I know the club is excited. He's motivated, which is wonderful, and we're looking forward to it." While the pair were fierce rivals during their Test careers, Smith says that their relationship is now improving steadily.
"It is good. We don't spend a huge amount of time together, so it needs to develop," he said. "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."