England should have managed Kevin Pietersen better to reap the benefits of his match-winning performances rather than exile him, former South Africa captain Graeme Smith said on Thursday.
Pietersen was jettisoned from the national team after the 5-0 Ashes whitewash in Australia for a perceived lack of team spirit, although neither England nor Pietersen have spelled out the exact reasons for his exit.
England were subsequently dumped out of the World Twenty20 in the group stage, culminating in an embarrassing 45-run defeat to the Netherlands.
Smith, the Surrey captain, said England’s leadership should have done more to keep his county team mate in the side and their dismal performance at the WorldT20 showed they had made the wrong decision.
“I was very surprised that Pietersen was dropped,” Smith told a news conference at The Oval on Thursday. “I would have thought that the environment could have managed a match-winner like that.
“In any environment there is a lot of different personalities so you need to manage big personalities. It’s part of being a leader.
“You can’t help but look at the World T20 and think he would have added value.
“It would be surprising that when you have a really quality player like that, who still has a few good years left in him, you wouldn’t try and make it work. Kevin is fit, healthy and still performing well, so it was surprising.”
England are without a head coach, with Ashley Giles favourite to succeed Andy Flower despite overseeing the World T20 campaign in Bangladesh.
Smith, the most successful test captain, believes England are in desperate need of new leadership and says questions still remain over test captain Alastair Cook.
“England look a little bit stale,” Smith said. “They look like they need new energy, they need a direction and someone to galvanise them. It will be interesting to see where they move with that.
“I think Alastair Cook needs to answer some important questions like: do the players trust him? He’s also going to have to focus on performing and scoring runs. If he scores runs it will really help his captaincy.”
Smith has experience of falling out with South African-born Pietersen, trading insults on and off the field in the early stages of their test careers.
But the 33-year-old said they have a good relationship now and were looking forward to working together.
“I think it’s always nice to have players like him that can win a game single-handedly,” Smith said. “It’s nice to build teams around players like that. I’m excited to have him around.
“I think our relationship is good. There’s no doubt it was very competitive from a early age and once the media and the public get hold of it, it grew. But it never reached the point it was made out to be.
“It’s nice that now we can have a beer and laugh about some of those stupid things we did as youngsters.”
Surrey were relegated to the second tier of the English county championship last season and start their campaign for promotion against Glamorgan at The Oval on Sunday.