England confounded all predictions last night by qualifying for the semi-finals of the Champions Trophy. Their emphatic defeat of the favourites South Africa by 22 runs makes anything possible in the tournament now and a genuine air of self-belief is sweeping through the camp.
So unexpectedly impressive and regally entertaining was their batting performance that their captain Andrew Strauss said: "I have never seen an England side bat better than we did out there tonight. We were pretty down on confidence when we came here after the one-day series against Australia and one of the things we wanted to do when we came out here was to show people what we can do and not die wondering."
That England did in style. Their innings of 323 for 8, their highest against South Africa, contained 12 sixes, more than they have ever hit in a one-day innings. Six of them belonged to Owais Shah, one of the villains of the piece in the 6-1 drubbing by Australia earlier this month but a copper-bottomed hero last night.
His striking was outrageously bold and certain, vintage Shah perhaps, except he had never batted like it for England before. He deserved a hundred but was eventually out for 98, playing one of his least audacious strokes. Eoin Morgan, playing in only his 10th match for England, struck five sixes in an innings of 67 that spanned only 34 balls.
South Africa kept reasonable pace with the pursuit for four fifths of their innings but they were ultimately too reliant on their captain, Graeme Smith who made a career best 141. Towards the end of his innings there was a moment of controversy when Smith, suffering from cramp, was denied a runner by Strauss.
Smith, on 124 when the runner came on to the field and was sent packing, said he was making no excuses. But he added ominously: "I'm not going to slag Andrew but I was cramping and thought it justified a runner. He thought differently. One thing I know as an international captain is that eventually these things come back at you."
However, Strauss, who had demonstrated his sportsmanship when England defeated Sri Lanka on Friday when he recalled batsman Angelo Mathews following a mid-wicket collision in a run-out, was unequivocal. "Towards the end of a long innings tiredness and cramp can be a factor and it is down to preparation in some ways. The umpires were clearly uncomfortable with it and I didn't thing it merited a runner." He was running all the way to the Champions Trophy last night.Reuse content