Gqeberha – As the Proteas prepare to battle the West Indies in the first of three-match one-day internationals in East London on Thursday, it’s worth looking back at one of the most memorable games at the venue.
In Kevin Pietersen’s first return to his native South Africa, chasing 312 runs for England to win, he made the Proteas sweat taking the game deep into the last over of the match to give the people of East London an experience to cherish.
Almost 20 years have passed since the fifth ODI between Michael Vaughan’s England and Graeme Smith’s Proteas at Buffalo Park. This was Pietersen’s first series back in South Africa since immigrating to England, and AB de Villiers’ debut ODI series.
Smith won the toss on a warm but gloomy East London afternoon, and with a team that had batters of Jacques Kallis’ calibre, the young Smith unsurprisingly opted to bat first.
They set England 312 runs to win, with the captain leading from the front with an unbeaten 131-ball 115 runs which saw him hit four boundaries.
Justin Kemp’s brute force was on full display that evening, as the right-hander struck 80 runs in his innings. That knock was a total opposite to Smith’s two-hour long batting session and also to Kallis’ 53-ball 49.
Kemp brought the Buffalo Park crowd to their feet with impressive power hitting, in which he cleared the boundary seven times and hit four fours on his way to that 80.
SA had every right to be confident after making the highest total at Buffalo Park at the time, that 312 is the second highest total at the venue.
In reply, Pietersen struck an unbeaten century and was striking at an impressive rate of 144 in his innings.
The people of East London got a real treat that Wednesday evening.
Pietersen and Kabir Ali (20 off 15) refused to give up as England needed 23 to win in the final over. In those days, chasing that much was too much to ask but Pietersen took the attack to SA and made them sweat as England fell just seven runs short.
SA went on to win the series 3-1, but that performance from a young Pietersen is still a fond memory to everyone who was at Buffalo Park that night.