Australia were under the cosh as they have not been in a home Test for decades.
For the best part of three days England had been remorseless, until the rain swept in after tea to finish play for the day. Runs flowed: 132 from 26 overs in the morning as the new ball was summarily dispatched and a further 102 in the afternoon. It seemed as if the only way Australia would gain some respite from the pounding of the England batsmen was from the sky.
But by then Kevin Pietersen, batting supremely well, had hit 31 fours and a six in reaching 217, to be within nine runs of his highest Test score, made against West Indies at Headingley, and England were 551 for four. That this is the precisely the number of runs that England had when Andrew Flintoff declared here four years ago might be seen in some quarters as an omen but that would be extreme straw-clutching: when the abandonment came England already had a first innings lead of 306.
England's two innings then, since they began their fightback at The Gabba, have produced 1,067 runs for the loss of five wickets. By any stretch of the imagination, that is staggering. Not since Perth in 1984, when they were bowled out for 76 by West Indies and followed on 340 behind have Australia conceded such a first-innings deficit at home.
Pietersen may have been majestic, a show-stopper and hogger of the limelight but he was not alone. Alastair Cook added only another dozen runs to his overnight 136 before the perspiring, indefatigable Ryan Harris somehow nipped one back to take the inside edge.
But Paul Collingwood, who had sat through more than an entire day with most of his protective kit on before getting to the crease and feared "nicking off", made a jaunty 42 before he missed a straight ball from Shane Watson and was indisputably lbw on the back foot, while Ian Bell had caressed his nonchalant way to an unbeaten 41, with six fours. England had now made five centuries in the series to that point, two of them doubles. Four years ago, only Pietersen and Collingwood, on this ground, and Cook, in Perth, had reached three figures in the entire series.
If the value of building partnerships has been a key lesson drilled into the players, not least in their intensive training camp in Bavaria at the end of last season, then it has been taken on board. Successive partnerships since the second innings began at The Gabba have produced 188, 329*, 3, 173, 180 and 101. In 1938, when England made 903 for seven, there were no fewer than five century stands. But no England innings has ever witnessed four such stands successively: Pietersen and Bell stood within one run of that landmark.
From such a position of strength, Andrew Strauss's strategy from then on would always be determined by the weather but in an ideal world he would have had no thoughts of pulling the plug. This is a match situation from which England would only want to bat the once, and hope to exploit to the full any vagaries in the pitch – erratic bounce or turn – that may be apparent on the fifth day. He would want to be able to maintain close catchers and if necessary set in-out fields to Graeme Swann.
The pitch was by no means as sluggish as that at The Gabba, and there was the occasional sign of low bounce. Once or twice too Marcus North, a part time off-spinner, found considerable turn out of the rough outside the right-handers off-stump. However, the lines pursued by the Australians were attempts at containing, areas probed as naggingly as they could outside off stump to fields heavily loaded accordingly. To stray on to the line of the stumps, which would be England's way of bowling second time around, in pursuit of bowled or lbw, was not an option for them for there is no batsman in world cricket who is more merciless through midwicket than Pietersen on song.
This innings does not represent a renaissance for Pietersen for he has been in thunderous form both in practice and matches without quite translating it into the big runs it demanded. But for all the horror of the last Adelaide experience, Pietersen carried from it the memory of his 158. He craved this innings on this ground. There is a maturity to his play now. Still the eye-play is there, the impossible reach to drive wide deliveries and the spacial awareness to hit the ball in the air between fielders.
His defence was straight though, no closed face coming sweeping across his front pad. There was discretion. The time was when the adrenaline of the moment might have demanded something from his more exotic locker. Instead, he picked off the bad balls mercilessly, flicked and drove and pulled. At the crease he looked an immense figure.
Only when Harris bowled to him was his equilibrium upset. A bouncer all but unseated him, and flustered him sufficiently for him to have a swat at another that followed, only for the miscue to fall harmlessly. There was an lbw appeal too when Harris snuck inside his bat. It is part of Pietersen's method however to get his front foot outside the line of off-stump and this appeared to be the case as the ball struck. Ponting referred it but not with much enthusiasm, reasoning perhaps that there would be no point in having a full hand of referrals in the bank if the opposition were beyond 600.
Beyond that Pietersen was flawless, cruel in particular to Doug Bollinger and the hapless left-arm spinner Xavier Doherty, with whom he toyed, picking him off occasionally, once belting him over long-off and into the crowd in front of the scoreboard, a massive hit. For the most part he kept his powder dry so that Ponting might keep him going. It is an old trick. Only in the last over before tea did he reveal the possibilities. It did not make pretty viewing.
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