Michael Vaughan’s side ended a run of eight successive Ashes series defeats for England and finally got their hands on the urn after a draw in the rain-affected fifth and final Test gave them a 2-1 series victory.
Australia needed victory on the last day to retain their crown while England only needed a draw as a series widely regarded as one of the best ever went down to the wire.
England looked in serious danger at lunch after slumping to 127 for five – a lead of only 133 – and were still in trouble at 199 for seven, but Pietersen’s stunning century kept Australia at bay.
The South Africa-born batter scored 15 fours and seven sixes in his 158 – the first of 23 Test centuries – having the made the most of being dropped on 0, 15 and 60 to launch a blistering counter-attack.
By the time the 25-year-old was finally out, bowled by Glenn McGrath to leave England on 308 for eight, the host nation were already out of sight and Australia faced only four balls in their second innings before a draw was confirmed.
The result allowed England to celebrate in style as Vaughan became the first England captain to lift the famous urn since Mike Gatting.
Pietersen said after the day’s play: “I would be stupid to say I have had a better day.
“That is the best innings I will ever play, with all the circumstances it would be difficult to beat that.
“It is remarkable to be part of this England team, everybody loves being in each other’s company. The whole summer has been fantastic.”