South Africa learn the art of survival

Sssshhh. Nobody tell South Africa this was actually a knockout match. They already know the next one is and they can't handle that sort of that pressure. Or can they?

Twice before in this tournament they sneaked through in tense chases. Another South African side - take your pick from the class of the '99 World Cup to the ones of the World T20 2014 - would have fluffed one or probably both of those. This South African side did not but still they earned very little praise for their efforts.

The armchair critics found fault with everything from the composition of the batting line-up to which bowlers were being selected - and most of it was justified. South Africa relied on a combination of fortune and fumbling from the other side. They did not look convincing and they knew it.

"We hadn't played really well up until tonight," AB de Villiers, who stood as captain for the suspended Faf du Plessis, said.

With that in mind, South Africa had to rectify their issues against England because their would be no second chance. Although the bowlers sent down 10 extra deliveries with nine wides and a no-ball in challenging conditions in which the dew was so dense it could have been mistakes for rain, the batsmen showed what they are capable of when their plan comes together.

A solid start followed by the best batsmen in the side, AB de Villiers, coming in at No. 3 can produce the sparkling results some predicted a South African team with the personnel they have at their disposal should be able to dish up.

Stuart Broad called de Villiers' knock match defining. "The whole game was pretty much reliant on AB's knock," he said. De Villiers called it soul defining. "I've been sitting on the side for the last three games and not doing well. I've spent a few nights lying in bed, thinking about my batting and why it's not going well. I was very motivated to help my team get over the line."

De Villiers is at his best, not when he is batting at No. 3 but when he believes he is representing something bigger than himself. That is what he had to do in this match. "I'm not sure if it's about the position you bat in," he said. "I came in after the 10th over which is what the coaching staff want."

Responsibility was on him to make sure that Faf du Plessis, the man he gave the T20 captaincy to in December 2012, but who was suspended here, could lead in another game.

"That was more of a reason for me to be motivated and make sure we go to the semis," he said. "I wanted to give Faf the opportunity to take the team further."

When he passed 30 for the first time in ten innings, taking 14 off Jade Dernbach's comeback over, he showed his intent to do that. De Villiers played an astonishing range of shots that included the reverse paddle and a six over the leg-side which left Broad on his knees, almost literally. He said it was not part of a targeted assault on the bowler; just a desire to get going.

"We hadn't had a lot of big overs up until then. I felt settled. I read him well and unfortunately for him his execution wasn't spot on."

Wayne Parnell, the bowler South Africa slotted straight back into the XI following his return from testifying at a Mumbai court, almost had similar problems when his third over when for 11 but by then he had already done the damage. Including him was the second thing South Africa got right after not quite getting the balance of their bowlers correct in previous matches.

Parnell was included at fellow left-armer Lonwabo Tsotsobe's expense and de Villiers indicated they will stick with him as crunch times looms. "He is an absolute match-winner. I would love to have him in my team every day and I think we've seen very little of what is to come from him."

What is to come is what everyone is waiting for because this is where South Africa's real test starts. They are into the final four and the talk they have wanted to avoid will begin. They will be reminded that they have not won a knockout match at an ICC event in 16 years, since their victory in the Champions Trophy predecessor in 1998, just as they have been reminded of their failings at major tournaments at every one after that.

If they approach it with the same nonchalance they have all the chiding they have received so far, the people they may end up surprising the most will be themselves.