Who said Pietersen needed the limelight to strut his stuff? Backwaters don't come much more definitive than McLean Park in the quiet seaside resort of Napier, yet England needed his runs more than ever at the end of a tour which hung in the balance as he walked to the crease. A scoreline of four for two when Pietersen emerged became four for three and then, when Ian Bell fell to Grant Elliott, a potentially terminal 36 for four. A 2-1 New Zealand series win looked likelier than not.

Pietersen carefully assessed the situation, hitting only one boundary from the first 52 balls he faced. But the need to keep New Zealand's bowlers honest may have persuaded him to sweep successive balls from Daniel Vettori for four on the stroke of lunch with England still deep in trouble on 50 for four.

A pattern emerged. Pietersen hit most of his boundaries through the off-side, but worked the leg-side like a politician at a convention. He used his feet to the spinners, Vettori and Jeetan Patel, and kept out the seamers while colleagues fell at the other end. His fifty came up from 74 deliveries, and by the time he thick-edged Chris Martin for his 10th four to bring up a 163-ball century - his 11th in Tests - Pietersen had scored his runs out of a total of 168.

Total abandon was never quite possible on a nibbly pitch and with New Zealand only ever a wicket away, it seemed, from taking control, although a slog-sweep for six off Vettori suggested old habits die hard. Pietersen had extended England's recovery to 208 for six when Tim Southee, who earlier in the day had threatened to run through them, induced an edge to gully.

Pietersen's 129 had come in 208 balls and occupied five hours short of eight minutes, during which time England went from no-hopers to good bets. Their eventual total of 253 would prove enough for a first-innings lead of 85 and - after both sides passed 400 in their second innings - victory by 121 runs.