Anderson the catalyst for crushing win
It was not, perhaps, the scenario spectators expected when they bought their tickets. The result was hardly in doubt by 11am; the result was decided before 5pm and several snoozed in the sun for long periods in the afternoon. For the impartial onlooker, this was probably a rather boring game.
But from an England perspective, this was wonderfully, gloriously, beautifully boring game. After many years where success in ODI cricket has been a brief interlude in a general drama of pain, England secured their place in the final of a global ODI competition for the first time since 2004 and the second time since 1992. They may never have a better chance of shedding the embarrassing tag as the only team in this competition not to have won such a title.
The uncharacteristic show of emotion from Jonathan Trott upon hitting the winning runs was telling. It has been an ambition of his for some time to play in the final of this competition at his home ground of Edgbaston and here he produced a typically calm innings to ensure it will happen.
Nerveless and apparently unhurried, he still managed to score at close to a run-a-ball and, in his last 12 ODIs, has now registered one century, five half-centuries and been dismissed for under 37 only once. He has averaged 75.77 in that time. He will never win over all his critics but, in this situation, there is no more reassuring sight in English cricket than Trott scrapping his mark.
It would be easy to take Trott's runs for granted. But, when Alastair Cook and Ian Bell fell, England were 41 for 2 and only another wicket away from seeing their slightly vulnerable middle-order exposed. Pressure appears to bring the best out of Trott, though, and he led the run chase with the remorselessness of a hunter pursuing its prey. "It was quite a high pressure situation," Cook said afterwards. "Trotty played a great innings,"
But this was not a victory set-up by England's batsmen. It was set-up by England's excellence in the field and a woefully poor performance with the bat from South Africa. Winning the toss on a humid morning was, doubtless, an advantage and James Anderson, in particular, exploited it expertly. But there is no getting away from the fact that South Africa's top-order folded with pathetic weakness.
So England were fortunate. They were fortunate that South Africa were without Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel and Graeme Smith and Jacques Kallis. They were fortunate to win the toss. And they were fortunate their opposition played so badly.
But they were also fortunate when New Zealand dropped Alastair Cook three times on the way to his match-defining contribution in the previous game. And they were fortunate when Australia batted so poorly against them in their opening match of the tournament.
Good fortune tends to follow when a team plays consistently good cricket. It tends to follow when a team applies consistent pressure. It exploits any weakness and forces mistakes. The very best teams may not always be beaten by such a tactic, but it is the best plan England have and they follow it with precision. They will not start the final as favourites, but there are certainly not no-hopers either.
If Anderson were the sort to care about such trifles, he might consider himself unfortunate not to be named the Man of the Match. He bowled an excellent first spell that set the tone for the entire game.
There has been precious little conventional swing available in this competition, but Anderson found just enough to account for Colin Ingram and Robin Peterson, both of whom were set up by out swing and trapped by deliveries that swung in amid a spell that threatened consistently and offered the batsmen almost nothing.
While Steven Finn and Stuart Broad were disappointing, James Tredwell sustained the pressure with a spell that won him the match award. While only the odd delivery turned, it was enough to plant a seed of doubt in the minds of the batsmen and Tredwell, varying his pace subtly and bowling a tight line, benefitted as the ball sometimes turned but more often skidded on to batsmen playing without conviction.
There were other impressive performers for England. Jos Buttler, who has enjoyed a fine tournament as a wicketkeeper to date, equalled the England record for the most dismissals in an ODI by claiming six catches - one an excellent diving catch down the legside; another a good diving catch to his right to dismiss Hashim Amla and a couple of neat efforts standing up to Tredwell - while Cook captained with ever increasing confidence and individuality.
It would be premature to compare Cook to Mike Brearley or similar but, just as he improved as a Test and then ODI batsman, he showed here that he is developing into far more than a 'captain by numbers.' His decision to allow Anderson a seven-over opening spell was unusual, if hardly groundbreaking, while his use of three slips at times showed a welcome desire to attack when appropriate.
England may face some tricky selection decisions ahead of the final. Tim Bresnan, his baby now safely delivered, will be available and may well replace Steven Finn, while Tredwell will be hard to omit even if Graeme Swann is fully recovered. They are not the worst issues with which to wrestle.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo