This was the most important Ashes innings by an England batsman since Ian Botham demoralised Australia on the opening day of the 1986-87 series in Brisbane. And it almost never happened. When Pietersen came out to bat on the last day of the series in 2005 with England needing a draw to secure their first Ashes win in 18 years, Glenn McGrath had just removed Michael Vaughan and Ian Bell in consecutive balls. His hat-trick delivery struck Pietersen on the shoulder and rebounded to gully - only for umpire Billy Bowden to correctly rule not out.

More tension was to follow. In the next over, Matthew Hayden dropped a tough chance at slip as Pietersen, still yet to score, pushed forward nervously at Shane Warne. And when Warne himself dropped a straightforward catch at slip when Pietersen, on 15, edged a drive off Brett Lee, it seemed clear which side the Gods had decided to smile on.

But there was plenty of work to be done. England went into lunch in effect 133 for five and grateful they had chosen a seventh batsman in Paul Collingwood to protect the lower order. Now the fun really started. As Collingwood leaned on his bat at the other end, Pietersen embarked on the pivotal duel of the day, casting caution to the wind and hammering 33 runs off three post-lunch overs from Brett Lee. The faster Lee bowled, the harder Pietersen hit: Boy's Own meets Roy of the Rovers.

Collingwood departed for 10, having helped add 60 in 16 overs, and when Geraint Jones came and went in a hurry, England were still chewing their fingernails at 199 for seven. But Pietersen now found a sturdier ally in Ashley Giles and the game changed once more. Boundaries flowed against Shaun Tait and Australia's heads dropped. By the time McGrath returned to bowl Pietersen for 158, he had hit 15 fours and seven sixes - the most by any batsmen in an Ashes innings. England were over 300 runs ahead and the Ashes were safe.

Pietersen's innings erased memories of six innings without a half-century since his 71 in the first innings of the Edgbaston Test, and secured an indelible place in Ashes history for a figure the public were still warming to. They'll probably still be talking about it in 2105.