It was not very long ago that England looked at the number of one-day internationals played by the likes of Pakistan and claimed that their own comparative inexperience would count against them at the final reckoning. Yet at Newlands it was James Anderson, playing in only his 12th such match, and Paul Collingwood in his 36th who kept England in the World Cup with a stunning 112-run victory over Pakistan.
Anderson produced a superb display of quick, controlled bowling to propel England back as serious contenders in this tournament just when it looked as if a somewhat sub-standard batting display had moved them towards the exit door. The 20 year-old inspired a total collapse of the Pakistani top order with a spell of 10-2-29-4 that gave him another man-of-the-match award.
It was Andrew Caddick who struck first for England. Provided it was delivered in the correct areas, the ball was doing all sorts of things under the lights but Shahid Afridi took on Caddick and drove him way over long-on for six. The next ball was a beauty that took the outside edge on the way through to the greedy gloves of Alec Stewart behind the wicket.
Then Anderson began his demolition of the top order. Inzamam-ul-Haq was squared up by a swinging ball to squirt it to third slip where Nick Knight took a comfortable catch. Anderson's next ball swung as well - onto Yousuf Youhana's stumps.
Caddick was rested after bowling seven quality overs to be replaced by Andrew Flintoff as Saeed Anwar and Younis Khan halted the English juggernaut for a few overs. They required a certain amount of luck to do so, but with the ball swinging and the bowlers not wasting the conditions, they were entitled to some good fortune.
It did not last long for, in Flintoff's first over, Younis Khan tried to turn a ball to leg only to see the ball fly high behind the wicket as it hurried on. Stewart set off to get underneath it, but found the ball drifting away from him and the veteran wicket-keeper did well to dive and hold the catch at the end of his run.
Saeed Anwar's resolute innings came to an end when another swinging delivery trapped him in front. The way he moves so far across his stumps, this always appeared a likely form of dismissal. In the same over, Rashid Latif could be said to have done well to get his glove into contact with a swinging, lifting delivery from Anderson that was as near unplayable as they come and Stewart did the rest.
The enforced bowling change at the end of Anderson's spell meant that Craig White came into the attack. First ball up, Abdur Razzaq found that White too could make it swing and he was bowled.
In White's third over, Wasim Akram tried to hook, but was cramped for room and picked out Ashley Giles at long-leg. Three balls later, White sent Pakistan spiralling further towards defeat when Waqar Younis was turned and the ball looped up to Knight in the gully.
Shoaib Akhtar enjoyed himself with some wild swinging and authentic strokes to take two sixes off White. That 30th over of the innings cost 21 runs and lifted Shoaib to become top scorer. He only faced 16 balls, but he smote five fours and three sixes before Flintoff, who had perhaps been guilty of bowling too short, found a full length delivery to shatter Shoaib's stumps to secure England their victory.
Earlier in the day, England failed to make full use of the advantage Nasser Hussain had given them by winning the toss and batting first. It was Pakistan captain Waqar Younis who was pulling the strings and his bowlers responded accordingly. However, there was the nagging feeling in English hearts that it was made just a little bit too easy for those bowlers to dominate as they did until the final few overs of the innings.
The importance of the match to both sides ensured that there would be no lack of tension on as good a day as the Cape Town climate could provide. As it was, the tension at the start was almost tangible with the huge crowd adding to the atmosphere and absorbed by the early exchanges between England's batsmen and the much-vaunted Pakistani attack.
The early honours went to the bowlers. Marcus Trescothick appeared tentative in his movements and fenced at a ball from Wasim Akram outside the off-stump at the end of the third over to present a regulation catch to the wicket-keeper.
Michael Vaughan and Knight withstood the excellent bowling, especially of Wasim, to begin to fashion a partnership of substance. However, the first time Knight tried to impose himself on the attack by advancing down the pitch to flail the ball over the covers, he failed to spot a slower ball from Waqar Younis and gave a simple chance to Abdur Razzaq at mid-off to be out for 15.
Hussain replaced Knight, having only faced 35 balls (against Border in a warm-up match on February 6th) since arriving in South Africa. He settled in quietly, played a searing square drive for four, but then tried to force another ball from Waqar through the off-side but found it lifting too close to his body and all he could do was edge it. Rashid Latif held an excellent catch making a lot of ground to his right.
At 59 for three in the 14th over, England were shaking and Pakistan in a position of dominance. Vaughan and Stewart began to wrest the initiative back with a partnership of 51 from ten overs with strokes of authority to force Pakistan onto the defensive. Vaughan had the good fortune to be `caught' off a no ball as son as he had come in, but his innings was blossoming as he reeled off some delightful shots before bringing up his fifty with a sweep off Saqlain Mushtaq. It had taken him 61 balls with seven fours.
Waqar needed to do something and he decided to take himself out of the attack and bring back Shoaib Akhtar. He had already recorded a ball that had gone through the 100 mph barrier, and had seen another edged by Knight for six, and now he answered his captain's call by taking the vital wicket of Vaughan. The ball was short of a length outside off-stump and Vaughan lashed it backward of square where Younis Khan picked up a very smart catch just inches off the turf.
Worse was to follow for England. Stewart had withstood the pace and spin with equal facility and had 30 from 34 balls, striking the ball crisply. Then he played a poor shot against what should have been the easier pickings of Shahid Afridi. He appeared almost lazy as he tried to work a straight ball through the leg-side and was bowled.
That left Collingwood and Flintoff to find some sort of inspiration to rebuild the innings once again. They were looking good but, once again, having done the hard part and got in, an English batsman got himself out.
In this instance it was Flintoff who had been playing very sensibly and with great self-discipline. He had put on 42 with the admirable Collingwood when Saqlain was brought back into the attack. Flintoff defended the first ball he faced from him but then advanced down the pitch to the next one, was completely beaten by a ball that drifted away from him through the air and Rashid Latif had the job of removing the bails to complete a stumping of chilling simplicity.
Collingwood proved his worth by taking a minimum of risks but nevertheless keeping the board ticking along at a steady rate. The problem for England was that wickets were falling at an equally steady rate.
White was next to go. He was not alone in easing into double figures before giving his wicket away - in his case by chipping a catch to backward point off Shahid Afridi. If he had been able to stay with Collingwood to see the innings through, England might have been able to post what appeared, at that stage, to be a competitive total. If.
If Ashley Giles, who had given Collingwood sound support, had only swept Saqlain just a little further he would have had a second six to his credit. He had just lifted a slower ball from Shoaib over long-off for one. He went for another but Afridi held a splendid catch running round from long-on and just managing to keep himself inside the boundary rope.
Collingwood went to his fifty from 59 balls with only three boundaries and then showed immense character to take the bulk of the strike and all the honours in the closing overs. When Shoaib let go a full toss, he calmly swivelled to thump it, one bounce, over the mid-wicket boundary. Everything else saw him running like a hare to turn ones into twos to retain the strike.
Such was Collingwood's mastery of the situation that Andrew Caddick faced only three of the final 21 balls bowled in the innings as the man from Durham clawed England back to the outer limits of respectability on what looked to be a good pitch for the batsmen.
By the time the Pakistan innings had reached the halfway point and they were 76 for eight, it was evident that Collingwood had taken England to what was, in the context of the match, the dizzy heights of 246 for eight.
England now move on to meet India in Durban on Wednesday with work still to be done to ensure a place in the next stage. For Pakistan, their meeting with India at Centurion next Saturday becomes the pivotal point of their World Cup.