Graham Thorpe said the bad memories of a year in exile from Test cricket were erased after he scored a century at The Oval.
Thorpe capped a fairytale return to Test cricket with a superb century
Thorpe's 124, his first ever Test century at his home ground, helped England establish a slender lead over South Africa.
"It was pretty special for me to do this on my home ground," an emotional Thorpe said.
"There were times when I thought I wasn't going to play again and more importantly I had to wipe away the memory of how I walked away from cricket last year.
"I didn't want to leave cricket like that, and you couldn't have written it better to get a century on your home ground.
"I came into the game with the attitude that if it was going to be my last game for England, then it was going to be my last.
"I didn't really fear failure which was important, and I just wanted to do well for the team.
"Most people would love to get a century on their home ground, but to be out for a year I'm sure there was a bit of divine intervention."
Thorpe shared in an England record stand of 268 for the third wicket with Marcus Trescothick, who scored his first double century in first-class cricket
The Surrey left-hander admitted to nerves after resuming the third day unbeaten on 28.
"I was nervous last night as it is tough to come back into this arena but I enjoyed it," Thorpe said.
"I had a bit of a scrap last night and I thought today I got a bit of fluency back into my game and it was good to have a big partnership with Marcus.
Trescothick stole the limelight with a wonderful double century
"It is never an easy game and you have to work for your right to dominate good bowlers.
"We've come out of it well and we've taken a 20-run lead, which we would have taken at the start of the day.
"I've worked hard this summer and to get back to playing international cricket is incredible."
Trescothick silenced a few of his own doubters with a classic knock which combined aggression with technique.
"They bowled well and disciplined but in areas that I could leave alone and I've been working pretty hard," Trescothick said.
"It was nice to spend some time in the crease and it was nice to see Graham do it on his comeback Test.
"We had to get a lead and we set our stall out pretty early to do that."
England will resume on Sunday looking to build on their advantage before unleashing their attack on South Africa.
"It's a good wicket and we know we're going to have to work pretty hard when we bowl again," Trescothick admitted.