Pietersen ends England's long wait
England 373 and 335 (Pietersen 158, Giles 59, Warne 6-124) drew with Australia 367 and 4 for 0
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
England regained the Ashes after 16 years and 29 days, thanks largely to a superb match-saving 158 from Kevin Pietersen. The closing stages of England's innings were graced by celebratory stroke play from Pietersen and Ashley Giles, but the series had been given the grandstand finale that it warranted. Australia fought tooth and nail during the day, and at lunch were edging into a favourites position with England leading by 133 with half the side out. But Pietersen took charge after lunch, withstanding everything that was thrown at him.
Even though the match ended in somewhat confusing scenes, as symbolically bad light played one final role, the final day of this extraordinary series encapsulated everything that earned this contest the 'greatest ever' tag. Shane Warne produced one final heroic effort, England suffered a batting wobble, and Pietersen played an innings to grace the grandest of occasions.
It was fitting that Pietersen and Warne - two great mates and Hampshire colleagues - provided the last thrilling duel. However, the outcome could have been very different if Warne had clung onto a sitter at first slip when Pietersen had barely reached double figures. He has done more than anyone in this series to keep Australia in the hunt, but this missed cost them dearly.
Pietersen was in the thick of the action from the moment he stepped to the middle, facing up to McGrath on a hat-trick after England had been shaken with the loss of Michael Vaughan and Ian Bell in successive balls. McGrath banged the ball in, it climbed and flew off Pietersen towards the slips. The Australians went up in unison but the umpire ruled - absolutely correctly - the ball had brushed Pietersen's shoulder. Pietersen has answered every challenge thrown at him in his fledgling international career and now settled in for his greatest achievement.
Even before Warne's spill, Pietersen had been dropped off a harder chance by Matthew Hayden, and he continued to lose partners each time a stand threatened to develop. After McGrath had claimed his brace, Warne made his inevitable mark on proceedings. Turning the ball prodigiously from the footmarks he troubled Marcus Trescothick before trapping him on the back foot.
The stands erupted as Andrew Flintoff made his way to the middle and England's powerhouse middle order had a chance to take the game away from Australia, but Warne was too good for Flintoff. A series of full balls finally brought reward when Flintoff rifled a drive back to the bowler. In the last over of the morning session Pietersen received a torrid working-over from Brett Lee. He was hit in the ribs and then smashed on the gloves, with the ball ballooning over the slips - the destination of the Ashes was resting on such fine lines.
With 73 overs remaining after lunch, the runs-overs equation was always at the forefront of everyone's minds. Pietersen emerged from the break intent on turning this to England's favour by launching a stunning boundary barrage against a fired-up Lee.
Pietersen reached his fifty from 70 balls and then really cut loose, hooking Lee for two sixes over deep square leg and two fours down to fine leg. Shaun Tait made a despairing dive at one of the boundaries, but it would have been an unbelievable catch if he had held on.
England's progress slowed after Pietersen's onslaught as they consolidated against some accurate bowling from McGrath and Warne - as these two great competitors gave it one final shot to thwart England . The way Pietersen batted summed up the series, leaving you on the edge of your seat for as long as it lasted, and Warne had a huge shout for a catch at slip off Pietersen turned down from a bottom-edged sweep.
But Warne wasn't finished having an effect on the final chapter of this bestseller. He took his 10th wicket of the match to break a stand of 60 between Pietersen and Paul Collingwood. The runs dried up and two balls after Collingwood had broken the shackles with pull off Warne he propped forward and was smartly taken at silly point by Ricky Ponting. However, although Collingwood made only 10 it used up more than an hour of precious time and the runs pushed the equation into England's favour.
Pietersen was still flying, and reached his maiden Test century from 124 balls with two searing drives off Tait and launched into some expansive celebrations. Still, though, Australia refused to concede that the Ashes were slipping from their grip. Tait kept the dream alive when he bowled Geraint Jones in his first over. England needed one more partnership to take the ultimate prize.
They produced it with the contrasting styles of Pietersen and Giles which sent The Oval crowd into a frenzy. With the Australian attack tiring, Pietersen launched an array of stunning shots - taking his sixes tally to an Ashes-record seven - and crashed his way past 150 against a now demoralised team. When Pietersen was finally bowled, Giles did a fine impression of his senior partner by crunching a series of boundaries to bring up his own fifty. Warne provided a final show of defiance by claiming England's last two wickets but by then the celebrations were already in full swing.
Hayden and Justin Langer had to confront the joyous English crowd one final time, while the England team took the field for their crowning moment decked in their caps. Four quick balls from Steve Harmison were enough to get the umpires looking at their light meters. Langer and Hayden, who had accepted the umpires' offer with the match very much alive on Friday, then effectively brought the curtain down. Fifteen minutes later it was official, the moment England fans had waited 16 years for, but feared would never arrive, was a reality. The Ashes were back.
Andrew Strauss c Katich b Warne 1 (2 for 1)
Inside edge to short leg
Michael Vaughan c Gilchrist b McGrath 45 (67 for 2)
Outside edge, superb diving catch
Ian Bell c Warne b McGrath 0 (67 for 3)
Regulation outside edge to first slip
Marcus Trescothick lbw b Warne 33 (109 for 4)
Played back to a sharply spun legbreak
Andrew Flintoff c & b Warne 8 (126 for 5)
Flat-batted return catch
Paul Collingwood c Ponting b Warne 10 (186 for 6)
Bat-pad to silly point
Geraint Jones b Tait 1 (199 for 7)
Beaten for pace, ball kept low, hit off stump
Kevin Pietersen b McGrath 158 (308 for 8)
Play around a full ball, hit off stump
Ashley Giles b Warne 59 (335 for 9)
Bowled round his legs
Steve Harmison c Hayden b Warne 0 (335 all out)
Regulation edge to slip
Andrew McGlashan is editorial assistant of Cricinfo