England swept aside South Africa today to reach the final of the Champions Trophy. It was in every sense a formality, almost from first ball to last, a point that arrived with 75 balls left.
That, at least, was what England had to spare as they won by seven wickets. Unfortunately for their opponents they had 68 balls of their own allocation unused when they were bowled out timidly for 175 on a splendid pitch. It was not quite the manner to shed a reputation as the arch-chokers of world limited overs cricket. For South Africa there is always a next time and it is usually like the last time.
The host nation, never troubled, won a highly anticipated, but one sided match by seven wickets. Jonathan Trott made 82no, his 26 score above fifty to in one-day internationals to maintain a remarkable average, also above 50, to which no other England player with a proper career has come close.
Trotty did what Trotty does, in a position that could have been designed for his purpose, making sure the board ticked over, crunching the occasional boundary, irritating the opposition to distraction with his scratching around at the crease.
It was a little gem of an innings and was played precisely when England needed it playing. But it was all as good as over long before Trott went through his quiet skills, as it was when South Africa fell to for for two, and 50-4 and 80-8.
That they had as many as 175 to defend was down purely to a pragmatic ninth wicket partnership of 95 between David Miller and Rory Kleinveldt, which merely showed what could and should have been done before.
There was no doubt that in the atypical, balmy conditions bowling first was preferable. The buzz went round that there be might some good, old-fashioned, proper swing instead of the reverse malarkey that is all the rage.
In the event, England bowled well only in patches, though there was one outstanding exception. Jimmy Anderson produced another seam-perfect exhibition. It is no longer news. Unless you hear otherwise consider it to be so.
James Tredwell, again in the side for the injured Graeme Swann was hardly less effective, although he hardly needed to spin a ball for any of his three wickets. He is turning into the understudy who becomes the star, though Tredwell is much too nice a chap and Swann much too special a performer for this to be turning into All About Eve. Still, Swann has three man of the match awards and now, after yesterday, so does Tredwell.
Until the gallant, futile ninth wicket salvage operation, South Africa were dreadful. If somebody had invited them to assemble a batting display which embodied all the elements of mucking up a semi-final this would have been it.
Allied to their intention to try to continue playing with some authority and their clear sense that losing the toss was deeply damaging, it was a lethal combination. Before the second over was out, South Africa were two wickets down. Anderson ensnared Colin Ingram, the makeshift opener, by following an outswinger with one that held its line on middle and off stump.
Steve Finn, replacing Tim Bresnan who was on pregnancy watch with his wife due to give birth at any time, struck with his fourth ball of the tournament. It was, to boot, the invaluable wicket of Hashim Amla, who could not withdraw his bat in time and gave Jos Buttler the first of his six catches when the ball struck its toe.
Apart from his record-breaking exploits in this country last summer, Amla also scored 335 runs from 355 balls in four ODI innings. To have him now for one from three provides the kind of relief and jubilation to a side that goes well beyond the capture of a solitary wicket.
There followed a brief, an all too brief, period of retrenchment between Robin Peterson, elevated again to number three, and Faf du Plessis. After Peterson had shown some admirable belligerence – exactly what he was there to do – it was as if Anderson tired of it. Coming round the wicket he produced another probing ball holding its own line and his man leg before again.
If there was one shot which summed up the disintegration it was played by South Africa’s captain, AB De Villiers. He received a ball from Stuart Broad which was wide outside the off stump and simply flailed his bat at it in a detached kind of way. The edge went to Buttler.
De Villiers is a hugely accomplished cricketer and remains at the top of the ICC one-day batting rankings published this week but this was a shot from a captain telling his men that he could not be bothered and the game was up. Fortunately, not everybody listened to him and Miller, especially, was faultless, managing to conjure up two sixes amid the debris of the innings, including a carve of the front foot over point.
Only quick wickets and plenty of them could give South Africa a sniff of a place in the final. Without the injured Dale Steyn the improbable was entering other realms. Alastair Cook gave them one victim with an ungainly cross bat, Ian Bell was undone by a lifter which jagged from Kleinveldt.
But Trott and Joe Root painstakingly assembled a stand of 105 and when Root was bowled round his legs the line was in sight.