England's talisman times his return to form perfectly to demolish wilting hosts Australia

Kevin Pietersen's chanceless, unbeaten 213 could hardly have come in more appropriate circumstances – for himself or England.

Pietersen unsurprisingly chose international cricket's oldest rivalry, and one of its biggest stages, to produce his first hundred for 21 months.

He did so, too, at a pivotal stage of the second Ashes Test at the Adelaide Oval, just when England needed some of his vintage best to make their advantage count against Australia.

By the time Pietersen reached stumps on day three, with 31 fours and a six to his name from 296 balls, he had not merely consolidated Alastair Cook's 148 but had thoroughly dismantled home morale.

Despite the threat of more rain England's resulting 551-4, and lead of 306, has made them odds-on to go 1-0 up with three to play in their bid to win the Ashes Down Under for the first time in a quarter of a century.

Pietersen shared stands of 175 for the third wicket with Cook, 101 for the fourth with Paul Collingwood and an unbroken 99 with Ian Bell for the fifth.

With 85 already to his name at start of play, there was an inevitability – on this batsman's pitch, which Australia had squandered on day one – that he would post three figures for the first time since Trinidad in March 2009.

Pietersen first and famously announced himself on the Test stage against these same opponents, with the 158 which made the 2005 Oval Test and Ashes safe – and his average rises from almost 50 to almost 60 when he is playing against Australia.

"I wouldn't say it's the Ashes in particular," he said, trying to pinpoint what it is that focuses his mind so successfully on such occasions.

"But I do love the big occasion; I do love challenging myself against the best players in the world.

"When it gets tough I love that – and it's been pretty tough over the last 18 months. But this is a challenge I've really looked forward to.

"It's something where you get up in the morning as an English cricketer and think 'this is what it's made of'."

Pietersen has been having those thoughts ever since Andrew Strauss's England set off for Australia from Heathrow more than a month ago.

"To know we were quietly confident we could come out here and do a really good job, or a lot better than last time, that gets your juices flowing," added Pietersen.

"I remember leaving Heathrow airport thinking 'this will be amazing'.

"If that can't get you going, nothing will get you going."

He confirmed his near misses, since that innings in Port-of-Spain, have taken their toll.

"It's not been frustrations; I just set myself high standards," he said.

"To get 80s, 90s, 99, 60s, 50s ... it does my head in. It's not been the best time.

"You go through your career and you have good stuff and bad stuff.

"I've had a lot of good stuff fortunately, and a little bit of bad stuff. It's gone now – I'm looking forward."

Pietersen has had to rein in his nervous energy over the past week – waiting with his pads on and next into bat for 11 hours in all, during the first Test in Brisbane and again here while Cook and Jonathan Trott shared an unbroken stand of 329 and then another of 173.

"You could probably see by the way I started ... I was trying to get to 50 in five balls," he said.

"It was a long time to wait – I've never done that in my career before. But how amazing – it was absolutely incredible.

"It's brilliant to watch, brilliant to see – and long may it continue."

One of those who could find no way past Pietersen – three Australia bowlers brought up their own unwanted hundreds in the runs column – was all-rounder Shane Watson.

He duly acknowledged the talent of someone who has always shone against Australia.

"He's a very, very skilful batsman, and the way he's built – how tall and strong he is – means he's got a couple more gears in his play," he said.

"When he's going he can really take an attack down. Some of the things he does are pretty special, but it would still have been nice to have not experienced them over the last day or so.

"He is world class."

Display of the day.

Kevin Pietersen

Not a particularly difficult choice this one. The former England captain chose the perfect setting to return to three-figure scoring, hitting 31 fours and a six in 296 balls to leave Ricky Ponting's side praying for the wet weather to fall on the Adelaide Oval.