Pietersen's pleased enough, but is further improvement needed?
Since Peter Moores took up the position of team coach at the start of the 2007 summer, England have lost Test series to India, Sri Lanka and now South Africa.
In between, they have beaten two of the poorer sides around - West Indies and New Zealand (twice).
And whatever positives one may seek to gain from the consolation win at The Oval in Kevin Pietersen's first match as captain, the team are worth no more than their current fifth place in the official Test championship table.
There is now a reasonably long gap until England's next engagement in Test cricket - a full four months until they reassemble in Ahmedabad.
So what changes need to be made ahead of the India tour? What areas do England need to work on? Are the selectors getting things right and, perhaps most importantly of all, is Kevin Pietersen a good captain?
NEW CAPTAIN PIETERSEN
To answer the last of those questions first, Pietersen has a 100% win record and has also shown that the added cares of captaincy will not necessarily unsettle him as he was the only century-maker in the game at The Oval.
The trouble is, there were signs that he was looking to a number of lieutenants for guidance when on the field - such as Andrew Strauss and Andrew Flintoff - and with South Africa having already won the series it was clear the tourists did not have their pedals flat to the floor.
Test Match Special summariser and Independent cricket correspondent Angus Fraser sums up Pietersen's match thus: "It was encouraging to win this Test in KP's first game in charge. He has had a pretty good match, although I am not totally convinced it's the right way forward.
"But now he's captain he has got to be given a decent chance. There has been a bit of an end-of-term feel to South Africa's cricket and there's a little bit of hollowness about this performance. England still have a little way to go."
ARE ENGLAND PICKING THE RIGHT SIDES?
The selection of Darren Pattinson for the crucial Headingley Test was probably the most jaw-dropping moment of the summer to date.
But the Daily Telegraph's Derek Pringle says that, in retrospect, there was nothing overtly wrong about going with the unproven Australian-raised swing bowler.
Darren Pattinson - will he ever appear again in an England shirt?
"He came from left field but they had to take a risk and try to be bold to take 20 wickets and win the match. I can't fault them for that," he explains.
It was a gamble that did not work, however, and the experience seemed to push the selectors towards a more conservative strategy over the remainder of the series.
Granted, Steve Harmison was brought back but he only played once the series had been lost and although Paul Collingwood was dropped for a Test, he then made a successful return at Edgbaston.
Michael Vaughan's decision not to play after resigning the captaincy meant England could then revert to a five-bowler strategy for The Oval without dropping a batsman.
But that meant the opportunity to have another look at Ravi Bopara and Owais Shah was spurned.
IS FIVE BOWLERS THE WAY FORWARD?
Despite the win at The Oval, some observers remain concerned about the strategy of playing an extra, particularly if that leaves Flintoff batting in an exposed position.
BBC Radio 5 Live summariser Graham Gooch says: "Andrew Flintoff isn't good enough to bat at number six. He doesn't have the technique and his footwork isn't good enough.
"His bowling is fantastic and the presence he brings to the side is great but you can't rely on him to score hundreds. When Flintoff's in the side it poses more questions than answers."
But Fraser says playing five bowlers has to be the way forward: "It's more attacking and gives the captain more options," he reasons. "Bowlers are fresh and more likely to be able to take 20 wickets and you have to back your batsmen to score runs."
WHO WILL BE THE WICKETKEEPER IN INDIA?
Tim Ambrose's glovework has not been solid and the runs he managed to get against New Zealand have dried up alarmingly against South Africa's world-class attack.
The revolving chair with the words England wicketkeeper stapled to the back of it looks ready to eject another passenger and welcome another but who will it be?
Gooch says: "If you are going to play five bowlers then bring back Matt Prior as the best batsman-wicketkeeper to bat at six. But if your wicketkeeper is going to bat at seven or eight then James Foster is the best wicketkeeper.
"If you are putting your keeper in at six you are not getting to have your best wicketkeeper."
Pringle agrees with him, adding that Foster can "do a job" at seven or eight but not at six. He warns that Prior "will drop catches".
WHICH SPINNERS WILL ACCOMPANY MONTY PANESAR TO INDIA?
The last few weeks of the season will be important for spinners Adil Rashid and Graeme Swann to stake a claim for Test honours.
Uncapped Rashid has already picked up 35 wickets for Yorkshire in the Championship this season, while Swann has the one-day international series against South Africa to show his ability.
If both do reasonably well then they can both look forward to a trip to India and the fact that both can hold a bat with more purpose than Monty Panesar will stand them in good stead.
IS THERE MUCH PRESSURE ON ANDREW STRAUSS?
The England opener scored his only half-century of the series against South Africa on the final day and is still some way off looking like the player he was between 2004 and 2006.
Gooch can think of someone else who could partner Alastair Cook at the top of the order.
"You need contrasting players at the top of the order and we don't have that with Strauss and Cook," he states. "I like Vaughan and Cook as a combination and now, with the burden of captaincy off his shoulders, if Vaughan can score runs in county cricket there's no reason why he can't come back to open the batting."
IS SIMON JONES READY TO MAKE A RETURN?
A rejuvenated Simon Jones is producing some excellent spells in his first season at Worcestershire but he is also not playing for them on a consistent basis.
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Pringle says: "Simon has to prove he can bowl the amount of overs needed in a Test match. I am not sure he's done that at Worcestershire this season because they've been careful how they use him. I think it's still unknown whether he can do a hard Test tour."
The return of the reverse-swing specialist would see the three fastest bowlers of the successful 2005 Ashes team back in operation at last but at least the other two are going well.
Gooch and Fraser are both enthused by the return of Flintoff and Harmison, with Fraser saying: "KP has been fortunate to have them playing in unison, something Michael Vaughan hadn't had for a while.
"If those two keep going then England can start moving forward but they have been beaten by a better side."
SO, WHAT NOW AND WHERE MUST ENGLAND IMPROVE?
England travel to India, whose side are licking their wounds after a series defeat by Sri Lanka, knowing they must target a first series win there since 1984-85 to finally make some forward motion under Moores.
The crucial area where they need to improve is in their top-order batting. Patience, even more of a virtue on the stubbornly slow Indian wickets, will be at a premium, so it will be no good Cook cruising to 60 and then nicking a catch behind and Ian Bell must try to score his centuries when they are really needed, rather than when England are 200-2.
But there is some other cricket going on this winter that will provide a major clue of where England are. South Africa travel to Australia in December before hosting the Aussies in the New Year.
If Graeme Smith's men can win at least one of those series then perhaps the 2009 Ashes will not seem such a daunting prospect for Moores.
At least his captain is confident. Pietersen, reflecting on England's belated success at The Oval, said: "I have done some thinking about Australia next year. If we play like we played this week we will beat them."