England reclaim the Ashes
Kevin Pietersen produced his maiden Test century at the perfect time as England’s batsmen held their nerve to reclaim the Ashes with a draw at The Brit Oval which completed an historic 2-1 victory in the npower Test Series.
England got their hands on the famous urn for the first time since 1987 as they all but batted out the final day to bring the greatest Test series of all time to a close and spark wild celebrations all around the country.
Pietersen was the hero on the final day with a magnificent 158 which allowed Michael Vaughan’s men to recover from a perilous 126 for five to reach 335 all out - a lead of 341.
The Hampshire batsman’s 187-ball knock featured an Ashes record of seven sixes and ensured the efforts of Shane Warne (6-124) and Glenn McGrath (3-85) were in vain.
Ashley Giles also made an important contribution with a Test-best score of 59, having shared a match-saving 109-run stand with Pietersen for the eighth wicket.
The end of the innings left Australia with a possible 11 overs to bat before the match could be declared a draw but only four balls were bowled before the moment England had waited 16 years for arrived - bad light forced the players off and the Ashes were back with England.
It had been very different earlier in the day as Warne and McGrath gave the tourists hope of victory and Warne became the leading wicket-taker in Test cricket against England.
The morning began under overcast skies and Vaughan produced an early flurry of boundaries as England made a positive start, with every run cheered by the expectant crowd.
Another four by Vaughan helped England reach the 50 mark and the skipper and Marcus Trescothick were clearly keen to rotate the strike whenever possible as the sun came out.
Eight more runs had been added when McGrath suddenly lifted Australia’s spirits with a double breakthrough.
Vaughan was five runs short of his half-century when he fell to a superb one-handed diving catch by wicket-keeper Adam Gilchrist and Ian Bell then edged his first ball to Warne at first slip.
Pietersen came in with McGrath on a hat-trick and was tested with a short ball which struck him on the shoulder before flying to the slip cordon but umpire Billy Bowden turned down Australia’s appeals.
Pietersen was then missed by Matthew Hayden at slip off Warne after Gilchrist's gloves diverted the flight of the ball and the leg-spinner had a confident lbw appeal against Trescothick turned down.
Pietersen showed he was willing to attack though and pulled a short ball from McGrath for four as England reached 79 for three after an hour's play.
The positive approach almost proved costly though when a quick single saw Michael Clarke hit the stumps with a direct hit but the third umpire ruled Pietersen was safely home.
Pietersen survived an ever bigger let-off when he edged a regulation catch to Warne at first slip off Lee but the chance went begging - and how costly that was to prove.
Pietersen took advantage in the following over by smashing his county team-mate over midwicket for six to take England to 100 and he ended the over as he began it by again launching the ball into the stand.
He lost Trescothick (33) though when Warne got one to turn out of the rough and strike the left-hander on the pads, with umpire Rudi Koertzen raising his finger.
With that Warne became the most successful bowler against England in Test history with 168 victims, breaking Dennis Lillee's record, and Andrew Flintoff was his 169th when he drove back into Warne’s hands for eight.
England were wobbling on 127 for five at lunch, with Pietersen unbeaten on 35 and Collingwood yet to get off the mark.
Pietersen clubbed his third six of the day off Lee when the afternoon session began and he received a standing ovation after completing his fourth Test half-century from 70 balls.
Lee’s next over cost 16 - all from the bat of Pietersen - but the run rate slowed down as McGrath took over from Lee.
More importantly, Pietersen and Collingwood formed a solid partnership which was worth 60 when Collingwood (10) gloved a catch off Warne to Ponting.
Pietersen remained a reassuring presence at the crease for England and Ponting turned to Shaun Tait for the first time to try and remove the dangerman but two cracking fours through the off-side took the lead past 200.
Tait did make an impact soon after as Geraint Jones saw his off stump uprooted to reduce England to 199 for seven.
Pietersen’s innings was becoming more and more vital and so there was understandable delight all around the ground when he drove Tait through the covers for four just before tea to reach his 100.
There was more of the same during the final session and two more sixes by Pietersen tightened the screw. Giles was understandably more watchful but together they kept out everything Australia could throw at them as the celebrations started amongst the fans.
Pietersen's seventh six off Warne was a record for an Ashes Test, beating Ian Botham's six at Old Trafford in 1981. The partnership was also the best eighth-wicket stand for England against Australia at The Oval.
It seemed as though Pietersen would see the job through for England but his 187-ball innings was undone by a McGrath delivery which nipped away and knocked over off stump.
There was still time for Giles to enjoy his moment in the limelight and two successive boundaries off McGrath saw him reach his fourth Test half-century before he was bowled round his legs by Warne.
Stephen Harmison then edged to Hayden at slip to become Warne’s last wicket in Test cricket in England.
Harmison then sent down only four deliveries before Australia accepted an offer of bad light. Then at 6.15pm the nation were granted the stalemate they craved when the umpires returned to the middle to remove the bails and the celebrations began to commemorate a first series win against Australia in nine attempts.