It has taken the best part of three years but, finally, Kevin Pietersen looks at peace with the world of cricket. And that, even more than the century he took off India yesterday, is good news for England and their plan for long-term domination.
Three years? It seems longer, somehow, since Pietersen strutted this same stage in South London as the country's 78th Test captain, scoring a hundred, leading the team to a dead rubber victory over South Africa and then stepping forward to be named man of the match.
What could possibly go wrong? Well, just about everything, actually, and four months later England were back at The Oval, this time in the dead of winter, to introduce another new captain (Andrew Strauss) and a replacement coach (Andy Flower) following the breakdown in relations between Pietersen and Peter Moores.
Between then and now, KP's journey, if not exactly a nightmare, has certainly been something of a trial.
Having lost the captaincy, he then lost form and, around the same time, suffered an Achilles injury that first hampered his mobility and then became severe enough to rule him out of most of the Ashes-regaining series of 2009.
Going back to South Africa, the country of his birth and of his upbringing, and failing to hit anything like the heights he expected of himself may have been even more painful than that leg problem. And then the whole summer of 2010 came and went without a Test century.
Even in Australia last winter, having ended a sequence of 17 Tests without a century by scoring a double hundred in Adelaide, there was little sign of the spontaneous joy that was synonymous with KP the larger than life cricketer.
The game, it seemed, had ceased to be a barrel of fun and turned into a tough old job. Whereas he used to laugh at interviewers who questioned his form, or suggested he might throttle back on the flamboyance, he spotted traps – many of them non-existent – at every press conference.
But, whatever has gone through Pietersen's mind since England relieved him of the leadership, he now looks like a man once more loving life on centre stage.
Yesterday was not his finest Test innings. Indeed, he lived a charmed life at times and was made to look almost scratchy on occasions by the sheer perfection of Ian Bell's strokeplay. But he revelled in the challenge of helping to put the team in firm control, yet again, after a shaky morning.
"It was real good," he said before heaping praise on his partner. "Belly has been magnificent over the past 12 to 18 months. He has grown as a person and matured so much. I love the fact he is scoring runs so fluently, and he is so pleasing on the eye. There will be many more hundreds from him."
As for Pietersen, it is anyone's guess whether, at 31, his best days are still to come. For sure, though, he looks ready, willing and super keen to give it his best shot and remain part of a top order that he believes will break new ground.
Like Strauss and Alastair Cook, Pietersen has 19 Test hundreds – just three short of the England record. And Bell is only a further three centuries behind. "It would be nice to get the record but a lot of players in this team are going to get more than 22 hundreds," he said. "And it's not a competition or a race. It's about winning games for England."
Weekend weather and TV
Today Cloudy, with some bursts of rain over the afternoon. Max temp 19C.
Tomorrow Again staying mainly cloudy, with sunny intervals. Max temp 23C.
Today: Sky Sports 1 10.30am-6.55pm.
Highlights: Channel 5 7-7.50pm.
Tomorrow: Sky Sports 2 10.30am-7pm
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