Much more of this and there will be no nerves left to shred, no nails remaining to chew. England are almost single-handedly providing the drama in this World Cup and perhaps the ICC should consider hiring them as permanent ambassadors for the 50-over game.
For the fourth consecutive match they were involved yesterday in an encounter which went down to the wire. This time they won, defeating South Africa by six runs after both sides were bowled out on a turning pitch in Chennai, where conditions also favoured swing and bowlers rediscovered their will to live.
England lost two wickets in the first over of the match and by the end of the fifth were 15 for 3. Largely through cussed batting by Jonathan Trott, making his third fifty of the competition, and the recalled Ravi Bopara, they recovered to 171 all out. By contrast, South Africa's innings started at a gallop and at 63 for 0 the suggestion from England captain Andrew Strauss that they were good at bouncing back seemed as though it must have been based on their proficiency on the trampoline.
Then the match turned. South Africa lost wickets in clusters. They were 82 for 3, revived to 124 without further loss, stumbled then to 127 for 7, when it seemed that England must win. But South Africa's eighth-wicket pair of Morne van Wyk and Dale Steyn took them to 160, only 12 short of victory, nudging the ball, cajoling each other.
Time, runs and fortune were again running out for England.
But Tim Bresnan returned to remove Van Wyk in the 47th over and in the 48th Stuart Broad had Steyn leg-before and Morne Morkel caught behind. In another thriller, England prevailed.
"It wasn't one of our best wins ever because we batted poorly," Strauss said. "To lose three wickets early on a pitch like that was criminal really, thankfully Trott and Ravi got us back in the hunt.
"You're not going to defend 170-odd very often so you need things to go your way. Graeme Swann bowled exceptionally well while Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad made crucial breakthroughs at the right time when the ball was reversing. We've been involved in four very tight games so far in this World Cup and we're doing our bit to advertise the 50-over format but we'd like them to be less close than they are."
England now have five points from their four matches with two wins, a tie and their sensational loss to Ireland last week. To be certain of qualifying for the quarter-finals they need to win one of their remaining two Group B matches against either Bangladesh on Friday or West Indies the following Thursday. Epic encounters or not, the wait will seem interminable.
Strauss started the rot early for England when he danced down the wicket in the first over of the match to the left-arm spin of Robin Peterson and promptly planted the ball to deep mid-wicket, where Faf du Plessis took a low running catch. To the last ball of the over, Kevin Pietersen edged a catch low to slip.
England were taken by surprise by Peterson being given the new ball. In 42 previous one-day internationals, he had never opened the bowling but Graeme Smith judged that the conditions and Pietersen's long-term susceptibility to left-arm spin justified the gamble.
When Peterson had Ian Bell, caught and bowled, the batsman failing to reach the pitch of the ball to make it safe to drive, England were in the mire and Smith looked like some kind of seer. But slowly, never quite surely, Trott and Bopara dragged them out of it. They eked out runs as Smith kept changing his bowlers, refusing to allow them to settle. In all, he made 15 bowling changes during the innings.
Every time South Africa's recently qualified leg-spinner, Imran Tahir, was introduced into the attack, England were in trouble. They read his googly as though it was some long lost Aramaic language and this a bowler they are supposed to be familiar with from the county circuit.
Tahir had Trott caught and bowled for 52 from 94 balls and when Bopara, who was preferred to Paul Collingwood, fell leg-before to Morne Morkel's break-back for 60 from 98 balls – which included the game's only six – England's hopes of reaching 200 seemed shot. Tahir wrapped the matter up quickly, finishing with 4 for 38 and now has 11 wickets in the competition from his first three one-day internationals.
The gallows humour during the interval suggested Strauss had lost something in the interpretation of bouncebackability and nothing changed that view after Hashim Amla and Smith opened briskly. Although Swann stifled them, England were becoming desperate for a wicket.
A ball to Smith fizzed at him but England's appeal for a catch was turned down. Strauss immediately called for a review and, after replays from all angles, it was decreed that Smith had indeed grazed the ball with the thumb of his glove. Without a review, the wicket would not have been lost; without the wicket, the match would not have swung England's way.
The ball was reverse swinging and turning. Run-scoring became almost secondary to survival. Amla played on forcing off the back foot, Jacques Kallis, having a lean tournament so far, feathered a low one to Matt Prior. Briefly, Du Plessis and AB de Villiers dug in but when four wickets fell for three runs – Anderson at last having something to work with and striking in successive overs – South Africa looked done.
Steyn and Morne van Wyk stood sentry for nearly 10 painstaking overs, gathering runs where they could. But the line was to remain elusive. The tension mounted. Broad, who might have been a worthy man of the match instead of Bopara, relieved it in a trice.
"It was a huge game for us because after the Ireland game we needed to show some character," Strauss said. "The guys dug very deep in the field and I was delighted for the bowlers, who have been under the pump." Not any longer. England are back in the World Cup.
M A Chidambaram Stadium, one day: Wolrld Cup, Group B: England (2pts) beat South Africa by six runsEngland won toss
*A J Strauss c du Plessis b Peterson00031
K P Pietersen c Kallis b Peterson20035
I J L Trott c & b Tahir520394121
I R Bell c & b Peterson501713
R S Bopara lbw b Morkel601398146
†M J Prior c van Wyk b Morkel10011922
M H Yardy c Peterson b Tahir3001738
T T Bresnan lbw b Steyn10043
G P Swann c Duminy b Tahir16032028
S C J Broad lbw b Tahir00031
J M Anderson not out20069
Extras (b1 lb7 w12)20
Total (45.4 overs)171
Fall: 1-1, 2-3, 3-15, 4-114, 5-134, 6-148, 7-149, 8-161, 9-161.
Bowling: R J Peterson 8-2-22-3, D W Steyn 9-0-37-1, M Morkel 7-0-16-2, J H Kallis 4-1-14-0, Imran Tahir 8.4-1-38-4, F du Plessis 5-0-16-0, J P Duminy 4-0-20-0.
H M Amla b Broad42035173
*G C Smith c Prior b Swann22024154
J H Kallis c Prior b Broad15032025
A B de Villiers b Anderson25004455
F du Plessis run out17023850
J P Duminy b Anderson00048
†M N van Wyk b Bresnan13003766
R J Peterson c Prior b Yardy3001613
D W Steyn lbw b Broad20033149
M Morkel c Prior b Broad10037
Imran Tahir not out10011
Extras (lb2 w4)6
Total (47.4 overs)165
Fall: 1-63, 2-75, 3-82, 4-124, 5-124, 6-124, 7-127, 8-160, 9-164.
Bowling: M H Yardy 9-1-46-1, J M Anderson 6-0-16-2, T T Bresnan 8-1-27-1, G P Swann 10-2-29-1, S C J Broad 6.4-0-15-4, K P Pietersen 8-0-30-0.
Umpires: A M Saheba and S J A Taufel (Aus).
England's nervy world cup
* 22 Feb: v Netherlands
Edged home with eight balls to spare.
* 27 Feb: v India
Salvaged unlikely tie against the hosts.
* 2 Mar: v Ireland
Unable to defend imposing total.
* Yesterday: South Africa
Sneak win by bowling South Africa out
England need one win from their two remaining matches, against Bangladesh on Friday or West Indies on 17 March, to reach the quarter-finals.
South Africa chokers? Surely not... How Proteas threw away a nailed-on victory
29-0 After six overs South Africa have begun their run chase without worry.
63-1 Graeme Swann breaks the partnership, having Graeme Smith caught behind. But South Africa still need 109 only to win with nine wickets left.
75-2 Stuart Broad dismisses Hashim Amla. But South Africa remain heavy favourites, needing under 100 with eight wickets in hand.
82-3 Broad takes Jacques Kallis, caught by Matt Prior, to give England a glimmer of hope before A B de Villiers and Faf du Plessis rebuild to reach 124 for 3 and South Africa just 47 shy of victory... but
124-4 De Villiers is bowled for 25 (left);
124-5 Du Plessis is run out (right);
124-6 J P Duminy is cleaned up by Jimmy Anderson to make it three wickets for no runs.
127-7 South Africa lose their fourth wicket in five overs, Robin Peterson caught behind off Michael Yardy's bowling. But, again they rebuild through Dale Steyn and Morne van Wyk to reach 160 for 7 needing just 12 runs with three wickets in hand...
160-8 Van Wyk plays on to his stumps off Tim Bresnan. Yet South Africa are still fancied for victory...
165-9 Broad returns to trap Steyn lbw. South Africa refer it but he's bang in front. Six needed, last South African pair in. Chokers? Surely not?
165 all out Broad takes second wicket in four balls to earn England an astonishing victory. Morne Morkel is caught behind by Prior after chasing a widish delivery. England involved in yet another thriller.Reuse content