Kevin Pietersen produced an innings touched with "genius" to get England back into the second Investec Test at Headingley.

Pietersen near single-handedly transformed the balance of power in this pivotal match, in which England appeared destined for a draw at best before his scintillating 149 not out in a stumps total of 351 for five on day three. The hosts are still 68 runs behind but could yet prevail here to level the series, with one match still to play at Lord's.

South Africa bowling coach Allan Donald set aside any partisan thoughts to acclaim what he had just seen - and likened it to his experiences against the great Brian Lara. On hearing that praise, Pietersen said: "Donald was one of my heroes growing up. So that's special."

The 32-year-old batsman passed 7,000 Test runs in the course of his 21st century - and believes he is in currently in the best form of his outstanding career.

He said: "I've never batted better in my life. I think my last two (hundreds) have been my best two. Today, it was against an unbelievable bowling attack that keeps coming at you and never ever stops giving. To get runs against that attack is something I'll always cherish."

Morne Morkel's tactics after tea, from round the wicket, appeared to flick a switch for Pietersen - who suddenly went on the all-out attack. After dealing with Morkel, Pietersen moved on to Dale Steyn - smashing him for a straight six and almost parting his hair with another four clubbed back at one of the world's fastest bowlers.

"We really felt the wicket before tea was a big breakthrough," said Donald. "But then you get Kevin Pietersen in the way. The knock I've seen today reminds me a little bit of when I ran into Brian Lara - something in the category of a genius."

Pietersen's innings, in which he dominated a century stand with debutant James Taylor, bears an uncanny numerical echo at present of Ian Botham's astonishing identical score in England's famously improbable Ashes victory at this same venue 31 years ago.

For Pietersen, it will be truly satisfying only if it helps England to victory - and to do that, he knows he must consolidate. "We've just got to play well tomorrow now. There's no point just having one good day in a Test match," he said. "We've got to bat as long as possible tomorrow, and not give away all the good work the team has done today."