Final day: England drew with Australia

A day that had everything ended a match that was similarly blessed in a series unsurpassed in living memory, with Kevin Pietersen's virtuoso performance almost entirely responsible for England regaining the Ashes after 18 years.

His 158 included 102 in boundaries and it is inconceivable that a similar innings has been played in Ashes history. Ian Botham at Headingley won a match, and this one saved one, but it was played from an adrenalin rush which is one of his sources of inspiration.

Without Pietersen's astonishing maiden century in which he was dropped three times and could have been out half a dozen times to reckless strokes, Australia would probably have sneaked the match and Waltzing Matilda would have echoed around Vauxhall last night instead of Jerusalem.

The capacity crowds have become increasingly vocal from Edgbaston onwards, and yesterday's atmosphere at The Oval was as festive as this correspondent has seen anywhere in the world.

Already at a feverish level when play started, the crowd alternated between agony and ecstasy, as they were strapped in for a final switchback ride on what has turned out to be cricket's greatest stomach-churning rollercoaster.

The day started well enough for England, with Michael Vaughan at his most fluent as he hit four fours in the first six overs while Marcus Trescothick dropped anchor at the other end. It was not until the tenth over of the day that the fun and games started, when Glenn McGrath put himself on a hat-trick with two superb deliveries which moved from leg to off.

Vaughan nicked the first and was magnificently caught full-length and one-handed to his right by Adam Gilchrist for 45 - arguably the wicketkeeping catch of the series, although the standard on both sides has been well below par. Ian Bell completed the dreaded pair next ball when he edged to Shane Warne at first alip.

The Warwickshire batsman has had one decent Test match - at Old Trafford - althoug he suffered more than one dubious decision.

Pietersen faced the hat-trick ball and what a fearsome one it was. It exploded from short of a length and lobbed high in the air to slip from something, but what?

The Australians claimed it was glove but umpire Billy Bowden rightly ruled it was shoulder. Pietersen's charmed life thus began and continued next over when he was dropped by Matthew Hayden at slip of Warne when the ball was slightly deflected off Gilchrist's gloves and hit Hayden on the knee.

Warne's ruffled feathers were hardly smoothed half an hour later when Brett Lee forced an edge from Pietersen to give the most straightforward of slip catches but Warne dropped it. With that drop went the day, the match and the Ashes, as Pietersen rode his luck and played a unique innings.

Other batsmen before him have played spectacular attacking innings but few with such a mixture of unorthodoxy and almost reckless abandon. It was as though noone had mentioned to him that he was out in the middle to save a Test match. Even when he lost Trescothick, lbw out of the rough to Warne, he refused to throttle back.

He escaped running himself out by a whisker - sharp singles were not quite what England needed - and aimed four slog-sweeps against Warne. The first two went for six; a third was missed and could only have gone straight up in the air and the fourth just avoided an lbw verdict.

Just before lunch, Andrew Flintoff was caught and bowled by Warne and it was then that Lee decided to send him into lunch with a brutal working over.

The first short ball smashed into his ribs and he had to receive treatment; the next two almost took his head off but, if that was supposed to be a warning marker for the afternoon session, it backfired in sensational fashion.

When a batsman takes a fast bowler on sparks fly - and 37 of them flew into the scorebook in Lee's next three overs, including two thrillingly hooked sixes. Pietersen had been joined by Paul Collingwood who was happy to act as sleeper in a sixth- wicket partnership worth 60 in 14 overs before the Durham batsman was caught by Ricky Ponting off Warne at bat pad.

The hapless Geraint Jones got one from Shaun Tait which hit his off stump only halfway up and sent it cartwheeling several yards. He might have got something on it playing forward but stayed on his crease and the Kent man must be glad the series is over.

A score of 199 for seven with 55 overs left meant the match still had to be saved but, thanks to the spectacular hitting of Pietersen and solid support from Ashley Giles who was to hit a career-best 59, every issue was settled in the next 75 minutes.

Seldom has Warne been treated so roughly as when Pietersen swatted him everywhere and the 100 partnership came from only 23 overs.

Between lunch and tea England scored 95 of which the dominant Pietersen hit 70, but after tea he managed, improbably, to move up a gear. He went from 100 to 150 in 54 balls before he was yorked by McGrath, while Giles deserved his fourth Test fifty.

Fittingly enough, the wonderful Warne took the last two wickets, giving him six in the innings, 12 in the match and an Australian record of 40 in a five-match Ashes series.

It was sad then that the drawn match ended in chaos when, at 6pm, with 18 overs still to be bowled, the umpires offered the light, total confusion reigned for ten minutes, and Bowden said everyone might wait until after 7pm.

Common sense and cricket are often strangers, but this time the former was the winner with the game officially declared over at 6.15pm.

The awards went thus. Man of the series - Flintoff, who also took the award made by Australian coach John Buchanan. Duncan Fletcher reciprocated with his citation of Warne, and man of the match went to. . . who else but the unique Pietersen?

More Birmingham Post Ashes coverage:

I was there... Pat Murphy on the 'greatest ever' Ashes series

The day English cricket passed my Test Chief Sports Writer Hyder Jawad looks at the success of the sporting summer