South Africa 311 for 7 (Smith 115*, Kemp 80) beat England 304 for 8 (Pietersen 100*) by seven runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details

Kevin Pietersen's unbeaten century was all in vain © Getty Images

Kevin Pietersen's sensational 69-ball hundred, England's fastest in one-day cricket, was not enough to save them from defeat in a thrilling fifth one-day international at East London. England eventually fell seven runs short of the 311 posted by South Africa, who now take an unassailable 3-1 series lead to Durban on Friday.

Graeme Smith and Justin Kemp put England's bowlers all around the park in a thrilling 117-run stand for the fifth wicket. Smith recorded his second century in three matches, and Kemp walloped 80 from just 50 balls, before being yorked by Darren Gough, the only bowler to emerge with any credit. Smith struck a magnificent unbeaten 115 - his second century of the week - as South Africa exploited an easy-paced pitch to reach a dominating 311.

Jacques Kallis (49) and the impregnable Kemp battered England's attack at either end of the innings as South Africa made full use of their 50 overs after a rain-delayed start to leave England needing the highest one-day score at Buffalo Park. And they nearly did it, but were left to rue a slow start which brought only 59 runs after 15 overs. South Africa had no such sluggishness at the start of their innings.

On a small ground where the boundary was brought in after the rain, the second-wicket pair of Smith and Kallis wasted no time in rattling up a stand of 90 in as many balls, to propel South Africa to a lightning start. Kallis demolished Kabir Ali's first over with five exquisite fours and, along with Smith, put his side in firm control, vindicating the decision to bat. Darren Gough had made an early breakthrough, dismissing AB de Villiers through an edge to Geraint Jones for 2 as England set about attempting to keep themselves in the series (10 for 1). But this merely brought Kallis to the crease, and he immediately displayed his array of classy strokes.

Justin Kemp strikes yet another six on the way to his highest ODI score of 80 © Getty Images

Smith brought up the first four of the day with a cracking cover-drive off Matthew Hoggard: but the ball only trickled over the rope on a small but stodgy outfield, littered with islands of sawdust. He added two more off Hoggard, with drives through extra cover and long-on, while Kallis late-cut a four to hurry Hoggard out of the attack after his first four overs went for 28. Michael Vaughan kept faith with pace and brought on Ali, who lasted just one over as Kallis rattled up those five fours, a masterclass in punitive batting.

A brave Ali battled back, though, in his second spell after the medium-pace of Paul Collingwood and Marcus Trescothick stemmed the tide. Ali removed Kallis and the in-form Herschelle Gibbs in quick succession: Kallis punched his first ball to the substitute Ian Bell at midwicket for 49, before Gibbs chipped to the towering Pietersen at midwicket (119 for 3). Gibbs, unable to continue his rampant run at No. 4, was gone for 8: but he wasn't required this time as the others all contributed.

Ashwell Prince was dethroned by Hoggard's throw after a breezy 34 from 45 balls, as South Africa marched on to 181 for 4. But his flighty innings was made to appear pedestrian as Kemp joined the fray and, as in the last match, floored the accelerator. He was in imperious touch - lofting six after seamless six into the stands - and ruined Ali's figures for the second time in the match, striking 25 from just one over (his other seven overs went for a miserly 21). Smith was also on fire, and played sensibly after an initial assault. His second fifty was devoid of boundaries but full of thought, as he steered his team to a record score at East London.

Graeme Smith celebrates his second century of the series © Getty Images

Gough eventually ended Kemp - and the sizable crowd's - fun with a yorker, but only after Kemp had bludgeoned seven sixes and four fours on his way to an electrifying 80, to all but end England's series hopes. Mark Boucher fell next ball - another inswinger - and Gough found himself on a hat-trick (298 for 6). Shaun Pollock drove the danger ball, but he was a faller nevertheless as he failed to get back for a third run and Gough removed the bails from Vikram Solanki's throw. Gough had 3 for 58, but by this time South Africa had reached 300.

England made a slow start in their reply as the opening bowlers - Pollock and Makhaya Ntini - continued to work well in tandem, as they have done all series. Pollock was the first to strike, removing Trescothick, who never looked comfortable. He scratched around for 20 balls for his 4 before sending a simple catch to Kemp at first slip (22 for 1).

South Africa's bowlers continued to tie down England's batsmen, and Andre Nel picked up the wicket of Geraint Jones for 37 after he made another decent start, while Andrew Strauss's bright knock of 20 was brought to a close by a sacrificial runout. Michael Vaughan made painstaking progress - bringing up his first four in the 19th over - and posted 70 from 94 balls before he became Nicky Boje's first victim, caught by Prince at midwicket. At 179 for 4, the odds were still heavily in South Africa's favour.

But that was to reckon without England's talisman, Pietersen, who changed the complexion of the match with an outstanding unbeaten century. He was joined by Solanki. Pietersen rocketed to fifty from 38 balls, and took a particular liking to the leftarm spin of Boje, despatching him for three sixes. He enjoyed taking apart the pace of Ntini, too, carting him for four after four.

Solanki, looking to force the pace, played a useful cameo for 19, but he couldn't get back for a second and Nel removed the bails. Paul Collingwood (4) lent brief support before he was trapped lbw by Kallis (236 for 6). Ashley Giles hit Nel back over his head for a startling six, and then applied the salt with a four next ball. But Kallis burst his ripening innings of 15 from seven balls with a leg-stump yorker. At 254 for 7, England still needed 58 from 32 balls with three wickets remaining.

Ali did his best - striking a six on his way to 20 before being run out attempting a second. But it was the punchy Pietersen who was the driving force of England's innings. He continued to take them close with an exceptional knock, backing himself and his trusty eye for the ball all the way. But at the death Nel backed himself, and delivered a strangling 48th over which all but killed off the game. Ntini's experience told in the penultimate over as the batsmen couldn't strike a boundary. Pietersen may have larruped Nel's final ball over long-on for six, but his knock was all in vain - and South Africa emerged deserved victors.

Jenny Thompson is assistant editor of Cricinfo.