Believers in fate were not discouraged when Pietersen picked up a century in his first Test innings as captain against the country of his birth. If his run-glut in a losing one-day cause in South Africa in 2004-05 had immediately underlined a penchant for scoring runs under the most intense pressure, then this was glorious confirmation: when Pietersen - who a month earlier at Lord's had also taken a century off the tourists in his first Test innings against them - is in the mood, the dice fall in a certain way.

Michael Vaughan's tearful resignation following England's series-surrendering loss in the third Test at Edgbaston had left Pietersen with sizeable shoes to fill, and although his rein would not last long, where there was short there was also sweet. At least, the optimists pointed out, Pietersen walked out to bat knowing that the threat of a 3-0 defeat had already receded after his bowlers dismissed the demob-happy South Africans for 194.

As if by way of celebration, Pietersen eased his way into his inning with a couple of early leg-stump whips off the obliging Makhaya Ntini, then pulled successive balls from Morne Morkel to the fence. But it was a sumptuous drive to the on-side of the stumps off Jacques Kallis that really signalled Pietersen's form. A half-century in 79 balls felt like a formality.

Not that there weren't moments of misfortune. Pietersen was lucky to get away with a mistimed pull on 52 off Morkel, and he might have been held on 61 by a back-pedalling Ntini at deepish mid-off. But 15 in an over off Morkel got Pietersen back on track, and he moved to three figures with a trademark flick through midwicket for four off Ntini from the 135th delivery he faced.

Two balls later it was over as Pietersen carelessly steered Ntini to the floating slip as if providing catching practice, but for those who wondered whether leadership would stifle his extrovert approach, here was a rattling good answer.

Lawrence Booth is a cricket correspondent at the Guardian. He writes the acclaimed weekly cricket email The Spin for