Kevin Pietersen defiantly struck a mature century but England were staring down the barrel at 294 for seven at stumps on the third day of the third Ashes test on Saturday, still 233 adrift on first innings.
Pietersen became England’s all-time highest runscorer in all formats of the game on his way to a perfectly balanced 113 at Old Trafford, combining aggression against hapless off-spinner Nathan Lyon with watchful caution against the quicks.
He was dismissed lbw by left-arm fast bowler Mitchell Starc, although after a Pietersen review a small mark was visible on the Hotspot technology suggesting an inside edge.
In a test dogged by controversy over the officials’ use of the decision review system (DRS), third umpire Kumar Dharmasena opted to side with his on-field colleague Tony Hill.
Matt Prior was six not out at the close with Stuart Broad on nine as England still trailed the follow-on target of 328.
A doubt ahead of the match with a calf strain, Pietersen batted almost the whole day and raised both alarms aloft in a statuesque pose after reaching three figures with an audacious upper cut for four. His 23rd test ton and first in Manchester came after England won the first two tests without him really contributing.
Australia, who amassed 527 for seven declared and need to win to have any chance of regaining the urn, will rue not reviewing a Shane Watson lbw shout against Pietersen on 62. Michael Clarke decided against a review. Pietersen, 33, had got off to his usual nervous start but gradually settled with two straight pulled boundaries off Starc.
He then launched wicketless Lyon, who had been expected to be a key player on a turning track, for two successive sixes to bring up his half-century.
England’s caution before tea and the slow pace of play led to the almost obligatory Mexican wave through the capacity crowd and three beach balls found their way on to the field.
Pietersen was aided by Ian Bell, who hit centuries in the first two tests.