ENGLAND battled hard to just about grasp an Ashes foothold at last as they sought to consolidate their fightback in the third Test at the WACA.
Already trailing 2-0, and therefore in grave danger of losing the urn before Christmas, the tourists simply had to ‘win’ the second day here.
They did so in the morning, by bagging Australia’s last four wickets for 59 to bowl them out for 385; then, as temperatures continued to rise above 100 degrees Fahrenheit under a punishing sun, captain Alastair Cook (72) led from the front in a stumps total of 180 for four.
After Cook and Michael Carberry’s opening stand of 85 - the highest by either team so far in this series - two wickets fell for five runs, the second Joe Root’s unfortunate caught-behind departure via DRS.
A riveting passage of play followed either side of tea, in which Cook and Pietersen withstood the might of an attack Australia captain Michael Clarke has claimed to be the world’s best.
Pietersen, almost identical to Ian Bell after him, took 43 balls over his first four runs.
He then drove Mitchell Johnson for his first boundary - having seen Cook complete his 127-ball half-century with a cut off Peter Siddle for his sixth four, the first time in 11 overs that England reached the rope.
The intensity sustained by the bowlers was remarkable, using the short ball liberally on this quick pitch but with greater control than England the previous day - and just as it seemed Cook might be about to cash in on all his hard work, the effort already expended told not only on him but then Pietersen too.
Cook’s endeavour ended in anti-climax when he cut Nathan Lyon straight to point.
Then Pietersen’s attempt to counter-attack foundered on his nemesis Siddle, who dismissed him for the 10th time in Tests when he tried to club a short-of-a-length ball over mid on but was instead brilliantly caught by Johnson at full stretch above his head.
Cook’s innings began with a moment of fortune in six overs of batting before lunch when he was dropped on three by Steve Smith off Ryan Harris, diving to his left at third slip.
Carberry also gave a half-chance low to Smith in the slips on 10, off Johnson, and thought he was gone for 18 when he mis-hooked Siddle but saw the ball fall between wicketkeeper Brad Haddin and fine-leg running in.
The openers therefore survived and flourished, until Carberry paid for a misjudgment against Harris.
A switch to round the wicket disorientated the left-hander sufficiently for a fatal hesitation over whether to leave or not, and as he tried to take his bat out of the way an involuntary edge cannoned back into the stumps.
The next wicket was controversial, and it was hard not to feel sympathy for the notion of rough justice against Root.
Marais Erasmus gave him out caught behind off Shane Watson.
Root instantly called for DRS, but the merest flutter of activity on real-time ‘snicko’ combined with audio to convince third umpire Tony Hill he could not alter the initial decision.
Home centurion Smith was able to add only eight to his 103 early on another savagely hot day, but Australia still frustrated England - thanks largely to a last-wicket stand of 31 between Siddle and Lyon.
Stuart Broad (three for 100) and James Anderson were in the wickets, starting with overnight batsmen Smith and Johnson.
The latter went caught behind to a very good delivery from Broad, one of the first in this match to contain lateral movement - shaping into the left-hander but then holding its line off the pitch.
That was without addition to a seventh-wicket stand of 59, and Smith would go too soon afterwards - for the traditional England bogey score of 111.
England used DRS to their advantage, after Smith was given not out caught-behind by Erasmus only for simulation to demonstrate an inside edge against Anderson.
Harris speared Anderson straight to gully, but the 10th-wicket pair forced Cook into a double change before Tim Bresnan had his first success of the match - Siddle trying to leave but instead edging behind.
In a contest which might yet be close run, the runs already burgled could well be significant.