Alastair Cook’s men therefore have the opportunity to rewrite English cricket history at Edgbaston on Sunday, against either India or Sri Lanka, by being the first England team to win a one-day international global trophy.
After bowling South Africa out for only 175 on a batsman’s pitch, Cook’s is the second England team to book a place in a home final in this same competition since Michael Vaughan’s side did so nine years ago.
England’s bowlers took up the slack, James Anderson beginning the process with an exemplary new-ball spell of 7-1-11-2 and James Tredwell (three for 19) and eventually also Stuart Broad (three for 50) cashing in.
On a blameless pitch, but under swing-friendly cloud cover, South Africa made the most of their own batting troubles – collapsing to four for two and then 80 for eight before a record ninth-wicket stand of 99 between David Miller (56no) and Rory Kleinveldt.
In reply, in the absence of scoreboard pressure, Jonathan Trott (82no) was in his element as England confirmed their progression with more than 12 overs to spare.
Only Robin Peterson and Faf du Plessis had even hinted at a worthwhile top-order recovery for South Africa after Alastair Cook won the toss and then Anderson and Steven Finn removed both openers for a single between them.
Peterson and Du Plessis put on 41 for the third wicket. But the next five fell for 31 and South Africa were in terminal decline.
Miller and Kleinveldt had other ideas, calling an early powerplay in which they added 38 runs, and then taking toll of England’s back-up seam and spin.
Broad returned, however, to have Kleinveldt caught by a diving Jos Buttler down the leg-side. Lonwabo Tsotsobe also edged behind to give England’s wicketkeeper a world record-equalling six victims in an innings.
Colin Ingram was first to go for South Africa this morning, to the fifth ball of the match, a typically skilful piece of bowling by Anderson as he set the left-hander up with deliveries going across him and then snaked one back in to beat the forward push for lbw. Finn further vindicated Cook’s decision at the toss by eliminating the dangerous Hashim Amla in the second over.
At the ground where the South African last year made a national Test record 311 not out, this time he had just a single when he tried to pull his bat out of the line but failed giving Buttler an involuntary edge.
Finn was rusty, having not been in England’s calculations in this tournament until today with Tim Bresnan in Yorkshire awaiting his first child.
Cook replaced one tall seamer with another as Broad came on at the pavilion end, but persisted with Anderson in pursuit of more precious wickets.
He was rewarded with a second lbw success for England’s top pace bowler, from round the wicket to Peterson. Broad had South Africa captain AB de Villiers edging behind for a duck as he tried to thrash a wide through the off-side, then Tredwell took three for eight runs.
In between, Ryan McLaren was a Tredwell victim in all but name too – run out, by Trott from slip. Miller did his best to resuscitate his team with a 45-ball 50. But when Broad stranded him by taking the last two wickets in two balls in the 39th over, the match was England’s to lose.
That never looked likely either, even after losing Cook early – edging a pull behind at Morris.
Ian Bell was also gone before 50 was on the board, edging behind on the back foot in third-change Kleinveldt’s first over.
But Trott, who would have been run out for 12 with a direct hit from Duminy at midwicket, and Joe Root settled any semblance of home nerves in an unhurried century stand.