It was a margin which entirely justified the victors' position as favourites and their odds can only become shorter. Not only have South Africa won three from three, but every time they have been up against it they have produced something special. They are reputed to choke when the big games come round, which may be the only hope for everyone else.
The nature of the loss was profoundly disappointing for England, because they had already hauled themselves back into the proceedings - their bowling shortcomings being revealed, their fielding remaining utterly undistinguished - after South Africa threatened to run away with them. Having staged the recovery, they immediately headed back to their sickbed.
A target of 226, on this of all surfaces, looked eminently attainable. Some hope. England did not make it half way, which was almost fitting because it was a half-hearted, half-cocked, half-baked response which might have been perpetrated by half-wits.
It is not over (yet), as Alec Stewart dejectedly, obstinately pointed out, but he was speaking as a leader well aware that his men already have a difficult task ahead should they qualify for the next stage, the so-called Super Sixes. Under competition rules, sides take with them the points they have gained against the other two qualifying teams in their group. These are two that England do not now have. Perform like this once more and they may not have four. Perform like it twice more and they may not even qualify.
Failure to progress remains unthinkable, but the loss of two, even four, additional points is almost trivial set against the potentially catastrophic effects on morale of yesterday. Two straightforward, formulaic victories had encouraged the belief, and not only among the players, that England could indeed go all the way. What occurred here put that firmly into perspective.
These two sides have now met 18 times in limited-overs internationals. England won the first four when the opposition were only beginning to catch up with the demands of big cricket again, South Africa have now won all but two of the succeeding 14 and the second of the defeats was in the last leg of a three-match rubber when they were 2-0 up.
These are gruesome figures in general and the ones which emerged in particular in the 18th meeting hardly herald the prospect of a change in respective fortunes. South Africa were 111 without loss, having been put in, plummeted to 168 for 7 but added 57 more. They were again indebted to the calculated hitting of Lance Klusener, perhaps the most effective one-day player there is. He has batted three times in this tournament, remains unbeaten and shows few indications that his defences are about to be breached.
A week ago Klusener struck 12 off three balls, on Wednesday he made 52 in 40 balls including 22 in the final over, and yesterday he calmly accumulated 48 from 40 balls including a characteristically huge six in the final over. Still, England had employed an effective policy of damage limitation. At that stage English grit and South African resilience were being spoken of in the same breath.
Not for long. England folded quickly. The loss of a wicket in the first over was followed by another in the third. Another rally was required. It foundered utterly on Donald's spell. He was held back as usual until the 14th over (has there ever been a more potent second-change bowler?) and struck with his fifth ball, the second time in successive matches that he has taken a wicket in his first over. Three more followed. Graeme Hick was not, as it happens, one of those victims, but his careless shot into the arms of midwicket sadly embodied the performance, and maybe a career. Meanwhile South Africa's fielding was sublime, embodied by a spectacular catch by Jonty Rhodes at backward point when such feats were no longer required.
Before England's next match against Zimbabwe on Tuesday the selectors, who comprise the manager, the coach and the captain must mull over their tactics. As is the way of these things they will probably try to dwell on the good points. These emerged after Gary Kirsten and Herschelle Gibbs assembled the first century opening partnership of the competition.
Gibbs was full of strokes, too many in the end, and was especially hard on Angus Fraser, who had displaced Ian Austin and took the new ball with the formidable Darren Gough. At the age of 33, Fraser was making his World Cup debut. Gibbs took full advantage of the new boy.
At 10 overs, South Africa were 35, at 20 they were 98 but the advent of Mark Ealham proved the catalyst for their downfall. They are not infallible and their middle order can fold like, well, like England's. It did so and England, despite repeated, elementary fielding lapses, ensured that they stayed within view. Gough's second spell (after his first five overs went for 11) was stunning.
That is what England will think of for the next two nights and pray their world-class bowler stays fit. His hunger, his desire, his heart are not in doubt. There is, though, nothing much they can do in terms of changing personnel, although they should urgently consider the recall of Adam Hollioake.
Without him the tail is too long. Depending on the first six to make sufficient runs, particularly when the inexperienced Andrew Flintoff is in the key position of six, is not sound strategical thinking.The young all-rounder is a powerful hitter, but he is being forced to try to reach international maturity in the most important one-day tournament of all. And they say England have been planning this campaign for 18 months.
Meanwhile, South Africa march swaggeringly onwards. The others may be waiting for them to choke, but they might as well not bother, as it were, holding their breath.
SCOREBOARD FROM THE OVAL
England won toss
G Kirsten c Stewart b Ealham 45
(Faint inside edge pushing forward; 105 min, 62 balls, 4 fours)
H H Gibbs c Hick b Ealham 60
(Pulled shortish ball to midwicket; 99 min, 94 balls, 6 fours, 1 six)
J H Kallis b Mullally 0
(Beaten on back foot by one which straightened; 10 min, 5 balls)
D J Cullinan c Fraser b Mullally 10
(Thick leading edge to mid-off aiming to leg-side; 22 min, 20 balls, 2 fours)
*W J Cronje c Stewart b Flintoff 16
(Thin inside edge playing loose drive; 39 min, 28 balls)
J N Rhodes c sub (N V Knight) b Gough 18
(Drove on the up to cover; 38 min, 24 balls, 1 four)
L Klusener not out 48
(57 mins, 40 balls, 3 fours, 1 six)
S M Pollock b Gough 0
(Beaten by full-length straight ball; 1 min, 1 ball)
M V Boucher not out 16
(38 min, 27 balls)
Extras (lb7, w5) 12
Total (for 7, 208 min, 50 overs) 225
Fall: 1-111 (Gibbs), 2-112 (Kirsten), 3-112 (Kallis), 4-127 (Cullinan), 5-146 (Cronje), 6-168 (Rhodes), 7-168 (Pollock).
Did not bat: S Elworthy, A A Donald.
Bowling: Gough 10-1-33-2 (5-1-11-0 3-0-13-2 2-0-9-0), Fraser 10-0-54- 0 (w1) (7-0-44-0 3-0-10-0), Mullally 10-1-28-2 (w2) (3-0-17-0 7-1-11-2), Croft 2-0-13-0 (one spell), Ealham 10-2-48-2 (7-2-24-2 1-0-6-0 2-0-18- 0), Flintoff 8-0-42-1 (4-0-15-1 4-0-27-0).
Progress: 50 in 50 min, 79 balls. 100 in 82 min, 123 balls. 150 in 158 min, 230 balls. 200 in 193 min, 280 balls. 15 overs score: 73-0.
Gibbs 50: 69 min, 64 balls, 5 fours, 1 six.
N Hussain c Boucher b Kallis 2
(Thin edge off wide leg-side delivery; 14 min, 14 balls)
*A J Stewart lbw b Kallis 0
(Caught on crease by in-ducker; 4 min, 1 ball)
G A Hick c Gibbs b Elworthy 21
(Pulled short ball to mid-wicket; 66 min, 50 balls)
G P Thorpe lbw b Donald 14 (Beaten by full-length nip-backer; 44 min, 25 balls)
N H Fairbrother lbw b Donald 21
(Trapped in front by nip-backer; 107 min, 44 balls)
A Flintoff c Rhodes b Donald 0
(Drove off thick edge to backward point; 8 min, 9 balls)
M A Ealham c Cullinan b Donald 5
(Caught at first slip pushing forward; 22 min, 17 balls)
R D B Croft c Rhodes b Klusener 12
(Brilliant reflex catch at backward point; 25 min, 25 balls)
D Gough c Cronje b Elworthy 10
(Drove low to mid-on, diving catch; 29 min, 34 balls)
A R C Fraser c Kirsten b Pollock 3
(Flat-batted slog to long-on; 22 min, 18 balls)
A D Mullally not out 1
Extras (lb4, w9, nb1) 14
Total (41 overs) 103
Fall: 1-2 (Stewart), 2-6 (Hussain), 3-39 (Thorpe), 4-44 (Hick), 5-45 (Flintoff), 6-60 (Ealham), 7-78 (Croft), 8-97 (Gough), 9-99 (Fairbrother), 10-103 (Fraser).
Bowling: Kallis 8-0-29-2 (w6) (6-0-20-2 2-0-9-0), Pollock 9-3-13-1 (nb1) (6-1-12-0 2-1-1-0 1-1-0-0), Elworthy 10-3-24-2 (w1) (8-2-22-1 2-1-2-1), Donald 8-1-17-4 (w2) (6-1-14-3 2-0-3-1), Klusener 6-0-16-1 (one spell).
Progress: 50 in 88 min, 118 balls. 100 in 170 min, 230 balls. 15 overs score: 42-3.
Umpires: R S Dunne and S Venkataraghavan. TV Replay Umpire: Javed Akhtar.
Match Referee: C W Smith.
Man of the match: L Klusener
SOUTH AFRICA WON BY 122 RUNS Compiled: Jo King