Early on this Ashes tour Kevin Pietersen offered an assurance that he was on fire. It yielded a chuckle or two from his audience, who had just watched a skittish fifty and had trouble spotting faint sparks. How foolish of the doubters.
Pietersen was ablaze in the second Test yesterday, scoring a resplendent double hundred that took him triumphantly back to his days of wine and roses. Days, to be honest, that had seemed to be gone forever. If ever a sportsman gave proof to a claim that he liked the big stage, there could have been no more compelling evidence than this.
His innings, the 17th century of his career but the first for 21 months, contained everything that was lovely and irrepressible about his batting. He played determinedly straight when he had to but he was not afraid to impose his will on bowlers attempting to restrict him by rigid field placings.
If England batsmen keep redeeming themselves at this rate, Australia may never break loose from the gum tree up which they find themselves. Pietersen followed Alastair Cook in scoring a double hundred in this series, only the 10th England batsman to do so in all Ashes contests.
Both arrived at this series with justifiable doubts being expressed about their continuing ability to succeed at the highest level. Both have swatted them away in the most assertive fashion as if they had their eye on the Ashes all along.
England finished a shortened third day on 551 for 3, of which Pietersen had made 213 not out. They were within one run (the stand between Pietersen and Ian Bell having reached 99) of having four three-figure partnerships in the same innings for the first time since The Oval in 1938, also against Australia.
By the close, indeed, England had enjoyed such a run of dominance in the series that since the beginning of their second innings in the first Test at Brisbane their cumulative score was 1,068 for 5. Australia were not broken but they were not whole, either. They looked like a side who had spent two days in the field, were hurting and did not know where to turn.
Pietersen's career had taken a turn into a dark corner since he lost the captaincy in early 2009. Although he tried manfully to break out of it on the West Indies tour which followed that, nothing was quite as it had been. Demons of some kind were eating at him. And then came further misfortune in the form of an acute Achilles injury which took months to heal.
That infection was eventually cleared up, but not the one in Pietersen's soul. Whatever he tried did not work, and he was in danger of becoming a parody of his former self, desperately trying to play big shots because that was just the way he played.
The England team's management and his colleagues said repeatedly that Pietersen was sure to come back. If they had doubts they disguised them well. But they must have had misgivings, and last summer he was dropped from the one-day team, the form of the game at which he first made his international name.
That might, in the end, have helped because the team had so noticeably moved on. They wanted him, but he was no longer their gun player, and that must have begun to dawn on him. It might explain his softly spoken, humble press conference yesterday.
"It's wonderful to get runs and put the team into a position where we can win a Test match in Australia," he said. "I love the big occasions, I love challenging myself against the best players in the world and whenever it's tough I love that. It has been pretty tough over the last 18 months or so but this is a challenge I have looked forward to.
"You go through your career and you have good stuff and you have bad stuff. I've had a lot of good stuff fortunately and a little bit of bad stuff. It's gone now and I can look forward.
"The Ashes wasn't a target but it's something you get up [with] in the morning as an English cricketer, this is what it's made of. We were quietly confident that we could come out here and do a really good job, a lot better than we did last time. As an English cricketer it gets your juices flowing. I remember going to Heathrow thinking: this is really going to be amazing."
And amazing it has been. Pietersen, however, recognised that he could not go on as he was. He tried harder, practised more but it was not happening any longer. In the English season just gone his top Test scores were 64 against Bangladesh and an 80 against Pakistan which could hardly have been more sincere in its perseverance but was painful to watch.
In October he went to visit family and friends in his native South Africa and there he might have found the key to what happened here. He sought out his longtime mentor, Graham Ford, who reminded him what took him to the stars. "Fordy is a legend," said Pietersen. "He knows me, he has known me since I was six or seven, and the two or three little things that we worked on in South Africa have got me back to the way I used to play.
"When you're batting for that amount of time you find a pace to go through. The key is trying to go through the gears, go down to third and if needs be drop into first and then go back up. It's what I have worked on."
Pietersen had to survive an optimistic review of an lbw appeal before reaching his century. Soon after that Cook's long vigil at the crease ended – it had been 383 runs and 1,052 minutes since his last dismissal in a series in which he has so far batted for more than 22 hours – with an inside edge to the deserving Ryan Harris. Paul Collingwood then helped Pietersen add 102, and Ian Bell was sublime. Australia were resigned.
KP'S RUN WITHOUT A TON
1st Test v West Indies 0
2nd Test v West Indies 49
1st Test v Australia 69 & 8
2nd Test v Australia 32 & 44
1st Test v South Africa 40 & 81
2nd Test v South Africa 31
3rd Test v South Africa 0 & 6
4th Test v South Africa 7 & 12
1st Test v Bangladesh 99 & 32
2nd Test v Bangladesh 45 & 74*
1st Test v Bangladesh 18 & 10*
2nd Test v Bangladesh 64
1st Test v Pakistan 9 & 22
2nd Test v Pakistan 80
3rd Test v Pakistan 6 & 23
4th Test v Pakistan 0
1st Test v Australia 43
2nd Test v Australia 213*
Adelaide (Second and third days of five): England lead Australia by 306 runs with six first innings wickets remaining
Australia won toss
AUSTRALIA First Innings 245 (M Hussey 93, B Haddin 56, S Watson 51; J Anderson 4-51)
ENGLAND First Innings
Overnight: Friday 1-0
*A J Strauss b Bollinger1
A N Cook c Haddin b Harris148
269 balls 18 fours
I J L Trott c Clarke b Harris78
144 balls 13 fours
K P Pietersen not out213
296 balls 30 fours 1 six
P D Collingwood lbw b Watson42
70 balls 5 fours
I R Bell not out41
76 balls 6 fours
Extras (b 8, lb 12, w 8)28
Total (4 wkts, 143 overs)551
Fall: 1-3 (Strauss), 2-176 (Trott), 3-351 (Cook), 4-452 (Collingwood).
To Bat: †M J Prior, G P Swann, S C J Broad, J M Anderson, S T Finn.
Bowling: R Harris 29-5-84-2 (w1) (6-3-14-0, 7-1-20-0, 3-0-4-1, 3-0-13-0, 6-1-22-1, 4-0-11-0), D Bollinger 27-1-121-1 (w2) (4-0-15-1, 2-0-10-0, 4-0-27-0, 3-0-17-0, 2-0-7-0, 5-0-23-0, 3-0-15-0, 4-1-7-0), P Siddle 26-3-100-0 (w1) (3-0-17-0, 4-1-8-0, 4-1-9-0, 5-1-16-0, 5-0-23-0, 5-0-27-0), S Watson 19-7-44-1 (5-2-12-0, 9-3-19-0, 5-2-13-1), X Doherty 24-3-120-0 (1-0-2-0, 6-2-27-0, 3-0-17-0, 5-1-23-0, 5-0-30-0, 4-0-20-0), M North 18-0-62-0 (1-0-4-0, 2-0-3-0, 7-0-21-0, 8-0-34-0).
Progress: Second day: 50 in 13.2 overs, Lunch 90-1 (A N Cook 35, I J L Trott 39, 27.0 overs), 100 in 27.5 overs, 150 in 43.5 overs, Tea 198-2 (A N Cook 90, K P Pietersen 14, 55.0 overs), 200 in 56.4 overs, 250 in 68.0 overs, 300 in 86.3 overs, Close of Play: 317-2. Cook: 50 102 balls, 7 fours; 100 171 balls, 15 fours; Trott: 50 84 balls, 8 fours; Pietersen: 50 77 balls, 7 fours.
Progress: Third day: Close of Play 317-2 (Cook 136, Pietersen 85) 89.0 overs, 350 in 96.3 overs, 400 in 105.4 overs, Lunch 449-3 (Pietersen 158, Collingwood 40) 115.0 overs, 450 in 116.2 overs, 500 in 131.2 overs, 550 in 142.5 overs, Tea 551-4 (Pietersen 213, Bell 41) 143.0 overs. Pietersen: 100 158 balls, 15 fours, 150 210 balls, 23 fours, 1 six, 200 283 balls, 29 fours, 1 six.
Umpires: M Erasmus & A L Hill
TV replay umpire : B R Doctrove
Match referee: J J CroweReuse content