England and South Africa had not met in a major ICC semi-final since the World Cup in Sydney in 1992, a match which AB de Villiers admitted before the start of play ended with him "crying myself to sleep." Grown man now or not, after the mess South Africa made of this tie, he could be forgiven for repeating the experience.
De Villiers is no longer an innocent child, he is captain of a South Africa one-day side which throughout his lifetime has repeatedly flattered to deceive in ICC tournaments. So it proved once more. England rampaged through the top order as eight wickets fell for 80. It was a muggy morning at Kennington Oval, England won a favourable toss, and for once the white Kookaburra swung, but South Africa contributed immensely to their downfall.
David Miller and Rory Kleinveldt did at least regain a measure of respectability. A record ninth-wicket partnership for South Africa of 95 in 16 overs took them to 175. But all that did was provide Jonathan Trott with a prolonged opportunity to bat much as he wished, seemingly oblivious to the pressure of a Champions Trophy semi-final. He finished with a spritely 82 not out from 84 balls, a seven-wicket win done and dusted with more than 12 overs to spare.
Trott's rate of progress is constantly pored over, his displays routinely regaled by some, condemned by others. As England lost their openers, Alastair Cook and Ian Bell, with 41 on the board, and de Villiers shuffled his bowlers impatiently, looking for a magic trick, no England supporter was carping. They yearned for his stability.
Let me watch in peace, they urged him, build your bubble, do it your way. South Africa wanted his wicket more than any other, but Trott and Root, one imperturbable, the other full of vim, confirmed England's place in the final with a stand of 105 in 20 overs. Root left cursing himself, bowled behind his legs by JP Duminy for 48, but Trott remained productive to the end, completing his ritual post-match scratching of his guard even as Eoin Morgan tried to offer his congratulations.
The match was essentially settled by the 23rd over. South Africa batted skittishly, as if 300-plus and the sooner the better, was essential. Critically, they lost their most influential batsman, Hashim Amla for a single and the reverberations of that were felt deep into the order. The coach, Gary Kirsten, voiced what many were thinking. "We choked," he said. To some extent it was a traditional exercise in self-flagellation because this was not a hugely strong South Africa side from the off.
England's mood was set by the connoisseur of swing bowling, James Anderson, whose opening spell of 2 for 11 was extended to seven overs as his captain, Cook, sought to break South Africa early while the conventional swing persisted.
Wickets in the first two overs of South Africa's innings got England moving. Anderson can cut a serious, brooding figure, but the closeness of the morning left him full of smiles before the start. He removed Colin Ingram for nought with his fifth ball, outswinger followed by inswinger and an lbw verdict
Steven Finn has been stalking around the Champions Trophy, none too happy about his omission from the side, but Tim Bresnan's absence, to be with his wife Hannah with their baby imminent, gave him his first appearance of the tournament. Cook gave him the new ball and challenged him to channel that anger and his fourth delivery brought England the prize wicket of Amla as he failed to withdraw from an outswinger, the first of six catches behind the stumps for Jos Buttler.
Even in the early overs, England were planning for the possibility of reverse swing on a dry square later in the day. Stuart Broad began to bowl cross seam, to encourage wear on the ball, as early as the 10th over - and it brought him a wicket, too, as de Villiers was out without scoring, lashing at a wide one and caught at the wicket off an under-edge.
Peterson's appearance at No. 3 encapsulated South Africa's confusion. He was a pinch hitter in inappropriate conditions. If his left-handedness was perceived as an advantage, Anderson revels against left-handers when the ball is swinging. It was an unconvincing ploy. He acquitted himself better than most, taking three boundaries off a wayward over from Finn before Anderson had him lbw.
But this was not just a story about quick bowling. South Africa were so destabilised that a few overs of routine, if intelligently-delivered, offspin by James Tredwell caused further havoc. Tredwell, who was substituting for Graeme Swann, had 3 for 19 in his seven overs as well as causing the downfall, run out, of Ryan McLaren. The bounty that fell upon him was recognised with the man-of-the-match award.
No batsman summed up South Africa's failures more than Duminy. He was all at sea during his 11-ball stay. He survived a first-ball nought when he reviewed an lbw decision for Broad and was reprieved as replays showed the ball had pitched outside leg stump. He then should have fallen lbw third ball but Tredwell, with everything in his favour as Duminy was beaten on the back foot, politely refused a review as if offered a second piece of lemon drizzle cake. Duminy soon chopped on against Tredwell in any case.
Tredwell's success did not end there. Faf du Plessis, who had been as secure as anyone, fell for 26 when he flashed at a quicker, flatter ball and was caught at the wicket.
The wicket, though, that brought hearty applause from Swann in the England dressing room will not appear against his name. It was the run out of McLaren who was so unhinged by flight and turn that he ran several paces down the pitch. Trott, who caught the ball at first slip, had the presence of mind to throw down the stumps to effect the run out.
At 80 for 8, South Africa's one consolation was that they batted deep. They at least avoided the lowest one-day score ever made at The Oval batting first, New Zealand's 158 against West Indies in 1975.
They immediately took the batting Powerplay, which Miller greeted by smashing Finn over long-on for six. Miller unveiled his T20 one-legged slash over point, Broad disappearing for six more, and Kleinveldt slugged away when Cook finally felt obliged in the 30th over to introduce his weaker bowlers in tandem.
Broad finally ended the recovery with successive short balls to dismiss Kleinveldt and Lonwabo Tsotsobe, first ball. All that remained for England was a regulation dose of Trott, the finest suppressor of panic disorder on the market.