Alastair Cook’s hosts are one more victory away from clinching the urn with two matches to spare, and for a third successive time.
But Pietersen’s well-being was a cloud hanging over Emirates Old Trafford yesterday, as he underwent a searching fitness test with physiotherapist Craig de Weymarn.
England, who chose James Taylor as batting cover for Pietersen, will wait until the first morning of the third Investec Test tomorrow if necessary to give Pietersen every opportunity to take part after straining the muscle in his left leg during their victory over Australia at Lord’s.
With or without him, the hosts know they cannot treat Manchester as a last lap to glory – even though many believe they are near-certainties to overcome the tourists again.
England supporters need only short memories to conclude that, just when the urn appears to be almost within their grasp, it can often be more elusive than ever.
James Anderson yesterday recalled the frailties which interrupted England’s victory charges of 2009 and 2010-11, at Headingley and then Perth.
In Leeds, England needed to win to open up an unassailable 2-0 lead; then at the WACA, they also had the chance to go 2-0 up and therefore make sure of retaining the Ashes.
Fast bowler Anderson was in attendance each time as England were beaten, by the yawning margin of an innings and 80 runs in Leeds – where they endured a hapless first morning on the way to 102 all out.
“I think in the past, in the last two Ashes series, this Test has been a stumbling block for us,” he said. “So we have to make a conscious effort that we don’t look too far ahead – don’t look at the outcome before concentrating on the smaller bits that will help us win that game.
“We won’t look too far past the first hour on Thursday.”
Anderson, celebrating his 31st birthday yesterday, will have plenty more to smile about if England prevail this time in his first Ashes Test in front of his home crowd.
But he is determined to take nothing for granted.
“Most of the guys in the dressing room have experience of (Headingley), and Perth as well when we played out there last time.
“We hope we can use that experience, so it doesn’t happen again.”
After their thrillingly narrow first-Test win at Trent Bridge, England had 347 runs to spare at Lord’s.
But Anderson added: “We still have improvements to make and we know how dangerous Australia can be.
“Maybe they might be even more dangerous now they have nothing to lose.”
David Warner is among those England will be most wary of, on his anticipated return after the infamous bar-room punch he landed on Joe Root during the Champions Trophy – which earned him a Cricket Australia suspension and effectively kept him out of the first two Tests.
The combative left-hander was back with a big hundred for Australia A in South Africa last week, and Anderson said: “He’s a very dangerous player... especially if it’s a flat pitch and not swinging, so that’s something we’ll be very conscious of.
“He’s somebody we looked at at the start of the series, and we’ll look at him again this week.”
England have had little trouble bowling Australia out twice so far, and for good measure in a squad of 14 have recruited the height and pace of Chris Tremlett and spin of Monty Panesar in case they need those extra skills here.
“We have great options and have everything covered, with the seam and spin,” said Anderson.
“If Monty comes in, we have played with that make-up. We played two seamers and two spinners in India, so we are used to it.”
It is more likely at this stage that Root, in already for his opening batting of course, will be deployed as back-up to Graeme Swann.
Whoever gets the nod, Anderson is delighted at the opportunity to make history on his home ground – one which seemed destined to miss out on such occasions until Lancashire got the go-ahead three years ago to press on with the redevelopment required for a future as a regular international venue.
He and his county team-mates played their part, lobbying Trafford council to approve planning permission.
Anderson added: “It’s always nice playing at a ground you’re comfortable with and have played at for years and years, knowing the people that work here – it makes you more relaxed which is important, especially around a high-pressure Test match.
“It’s quite strange saying state-of-the-art and Old Trafford in the same sentence.
“It was getting a bit tired a few years ago, and we were very lucky to get the money together to be able to redevelop it.
“Now it’s up there as one of the best grounds in world cricket.”