It was only going to be a matter of when, not if.
Only one bowler really gave Kevin Pietersen pause while on his way to his second, and most triumphant, double century of his career.
And it wasn’t Xavier Doherty.
Ryan Harris, recovering from a knee injury, retreating to the boundary every so often for treatment from the physio for a tweaked shoulder, ran in, every sinew straining, to throw everything he had at England’s best batsman.
He beat the bat a few times. In one particularly fiery over early on, one bouncer had Pietersen hopping and staggering, and another was top-edged only to land safe, short of the man at deep square leg.
Pietersen does not believe in delaying the inevitable, but he has been out 5 times in the 90s, something Harris was hoping he could exploit with the short ball.
An appeal for LBW against Pietersen from Harris was turned down, reviewed, and upheld. The review was at best tactical, more likely desperate, as the ball pitched well outside the line and even in real time did not look out.
After this, Pietersen made Australia suffer.
He reached his 17th Test hundred and his 3rd against Australia, and then accelerated.
Along the way he lost Alastair Cook, gone to a good length delivery clipping the inside edge and taken by Brad Haddin in a superb diving catch. Back to the pavilion too went Paul Collingwood, who added a useful 42 but in comparison with Pietersen was so subdued as to be invisible.
The way Pietersen played, it was as if he has never been out of form. Short balls were cut and pulled; hapless spinner Xavier Doherty and part-timer Marcus North were driven with crushing disdain. The strut, the swagger, the arrogance returned. The flamingo shot made a reappearance. It was a stunning display from a batsman who is one of the best ever to strap on the pads for England, and boy, his resurgence could not have come at a better time.
Everything is falling into place for this England team. Players struggling with a dearth of runs, vulnerabilities in their technique, or lapses in confidence have come good.
They have admittedly come good against an Australian bowling attacking which is arguably the worst in years.
But this has not detracted one iota from the immense satisfaction of seeing an England captain marshalling so ably a close-knit, determined team; nor has it detracted from the satisfaction of seeing Alastair Cook, Jonathan Trott and Ian Bell bat so beautifully.
So when Kevin Pietersen drove Doherty wide of mid-off and took off for the single that gave him his double century, it felt like another piece of the machine – and perhaps its most vital – had slotted back into place, had the rust knocked off it, and was now firing with all cylinders gloriously intact.
Pietersen is a very different beast to England’s top three, and compared to the batsman who comes before him in the order he is the Ferrari Testarossa to Jonathan Trott’s Bentley Continental. As he himself observed at the end of day’s play, it is the solid base that the top three give the innings that allows him carte blanche to give his genius full and exuberant rein.
One last thing. Statistics in cricket, which we devotees of this beautiful game tend to regard with the same reverence that mystics reserve for numerology, can seem fraught with portent and meaning.
When Kevin Pietersen went to lunch on 158*, memories were awoken of the fact that four years ago, at this ground, he was run out on the same figure. In 2005, he made 158 at the Oval in the 5th Test with an innings that arguably won the Ashes for England. He has been out on 158 three times, and until now has only once surpassed it.
When the rain came down yesterday and the evening session was cancelled, England finished the day 4 wickets down with 551 runs on the board. This is the same number of runs that Andrew Flintoff declared on back in 2006 during that disastrous Test on this ground when everything went so traumatically and catastrophically wrong.
England are a different team now. They are a better team, and some statistics are only significant if we make them so.
Pietersen came back after that lunch break and became the most successful England batsman ever to play at this ground. Likewise, Andrew Strauss can put England’s traumatic past behind it, declare ten minutes before play starts and dare Australia to make his men bat again.
England’s foot is now on Australia’s neck. Strauss now needs to abandon any safety-first considerations that may have guided him in the past, and give his team the chance to strike the killing blow.