Vaughan hails Pietersen as 'genius'

"Kevin Pietersen has that little bit of genius in him that allows him to go out and play an innings like that," he said.

"And I actually enjoy the fact that he has a life outside cricket, because he has shown in this series that he also has a lot of steel in him." The man himself, clearly smarting at criticism of his hair style, the fact that he wears ear-rings (courtesy of a sponsor) and a chain.

"I have copped a lot of abuse for all that but it's just something I wear in my ear, it's just a stupid hair style. I was taken aback that people felt it affected my cricket. It has nothing to do with my cricketing ability." But Pietersen soon returned to the England team's moment of triumph, playing down his role in it.

"It's just been fantastic. The team has been fantastic. And the transformation of the game in England has to be put down to a great Australian team and a great England team." But he did admit to being greatly moved at the end of his innings when his Hampshire team-mate and close friend Shane Warne left the triumphant Australian huddle and ran over to him.

"Warney is great. It was a special moment when he ran over to me. He said to me, 'Make sure you cherish this moment'."

Ricky Ponting, the Australia captain, underlined the true spirit of sportsmanship that has prevailed throughout this series when he looked back on all the Tests. "We have fought hard, but the bottom line is that we were just not good enough," he said. "England have been very aggressive when they were bowling and when they were batting.

"Even in that first Test at Lord's the bowling was as hostile as anything we have faced. We won the Test, but from that moment on we have been below par."

But Ponting insisted that he would not let outside forces pressure him into standing down as captain. "I won't feel obliged to reconsider my position," he said, "just as long as I am doing right by the guys in the dressing-room and by the management."

His opposite number, Vaughan, sat back and tried to take stock of what he described as "an incredible series".

"I am not sure that cricket will ever get to this level again. We are not No 1 in the world, Australia are because they have been winning home and away over a number of years, but I am sure if we play good cricket this winter that the ratings might reflect the last few series. And this young team all have years of good cricket ahead of them."

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