Robin Scott-Elliot: Graeme Smith, as ever, shoots from the hip... but how will he lead Kevin Pietersen at Surrey?

 

When the topic was – inevitably – raised, Graeme Smith, sitting in the players' dining room at The Kia Oval, laughed and made a joke about how he thought nobody was allowed to talk about it at the moment. Whereupon he spoke frankly and interestingly about the whole mess.

Everyone wants to talk about Kevin, despite the England and Wales Cricket Board's apparent policy decision to wedge fingers in ears, shut eyes and hope it all goes away, a game plan not even the Football Association follows any more. Alastair Cook was left in a ridiculous position on Tuesday when instructed not to talk about England during Essex's pre-season media day. Cook to his credit insisted he had to but still waited until the ECB backed down before giving his first thoughts on Pietersen since returning home from a winter not even his worst enemy would have wished on him.

Smith is no friend of an England captain – he has done for three since Nasser Hussain dismissed him as "whatsisname" in the fledgling days of his captaincy – and he does not appear overly impressed by Cook's leadership qualities.

Smith has played it hard, quick to seize on any perceived weakness. Just on Monday Angus Fraser spoke about how he believed Smith played a part in Steven Finn's deterioration as a bowler – it was Smith who kept drawing attention to Finn knocking over the stumps as he bowled. It got inside Finn's mind.

As a leader Smith had to learn on the job, cast into it at the age of 22 to captain a team losing on the field and beset by political issues off it. He had to deal with outside interference and while that rumbled on he made his team into the best in the world, scoring a ton of runs en route. He is an impressive man, a born leader. You can't imagine him waiting for his board's permission before speaking his mind.

When Cook first took over the captaincy he was the one who opened the door for Pietersen to return. It was a bold decision. Smith's suggestion today was that Cook and the rest of the England management should not have closed it so firmly now. Pietersen is a match-winner – can England, down and out, really do without him?

Yet there are times when someone just has to go, as Smith himself knows. When he took on the South African captaincy one of the first decisions he made was to ditch Lance Klusener. "Lance, as fantastic as he is," said Smith at the time, "can sometimes ruin a team. He can infect a team and bring down the youth."

This summer Smith will find out just what it is like to captain Pietersen. He spoke of the improvement in their relationship but it is one never tested by prolonged proximity. It will be fascinating to watch.

Smith's points about Cook – and the England management and team – hold weight. If anyone should know the hardships of captaining and opening it is Smith. He did it in 109 Tests. That Cook needs to score some runs is unquestionable. Ditto England can ill-afford to do without a match-winner. But as Smith's jettisoning of Klusener demonstrates, sometimes there is no other way.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower