Cape Town - Kevin Pietersen drew on his vast Twenty20 experience to notch up a crafty century on his return to Sahara Stadium Kingsmead, yet the Highveld Lions’ collective very nearly matched his individual genius as the Dolphins won the RAM SLAM T20 encounter by just one run.
Pietersen’s incredible late blitz single-handedly carried the Dolphins to an imposing score, as he finished unbeaten on 115 from 66 balls in a total of 174 for six.
On a dry pitch where the slower bowlers proved difficult to score off, the Lions kept themselves in the hunt throughout their chase, but fell heartbreakingly short as they finished on 173 for two.
Where the Lions had contributions from all of their top four, the Dolphins were entirely reliant on Pietersen for their runs after slipping to 87 for six in the 15th over, with Khaya Zondo (24) and Keshav Maharaj (13 not out) the only other batsmen to make double figures.
The home batsmen’s task was at its toughest when Proteas spinners, Aaron Phangiso and Eddie Leie, bowled in tandem through the middle period of the innings, and the pair picked up the scalps of Zondo, David Miller and Cody Chetty.
Recognising that the ball was not coming on to the bat and so scoring freely would be tricky, Pietersen showed his patient side as he played out the good balls and then put the bad ones away.
He was particularly harsh on anything short, with a good portion of his runs - and the majority of his 10 sixes - coming through the midwicket region.
Remarkably his half-century only came up from 45 deliveries at the beginning of the 17th over, yet such was the carnage at the end of the innings that the Dolphins scored 80 off their last four overs.
The Lions responded with a 58-run stand for the first wicket between Rassie van der Dussen (32) and Devon Conway (63), before the left-hander added a further 77 with Alviro Petersen.
At not stage did they allow the required run rate to get out of control as they took it in turns to play the role of the aggressor and also ran well between the wickets, and the game ultimately went down to the final over, which saw the Lions needing to score 13 off Andile Phehlukwayo’s bowling.
Petersen (49 not out) hit the second ball for six but Phehlukwayo bounced back to concede only singles from the next three, leaving Dwaine Pretorius needing four off the last delivery.
He could only hit a high full toss to long-on for two runs, giving the hosts victory by the narrowest of margins.