London: England eased into the Champions Trophy final after finishing off South Africa in a semifinal at The Oval on Wednesday that had all the tension of a practice session. Tasked with 176 for victory, England could afford to take their time before a subdued, near-capacity crowd to bag the runs in 37.3 overs with seven wickets to spare.
Jonathan Trott and Joe Root combined for 105 from 126 balls to steer England to the brink of the victory. Trott, indispensable to England, hit the winning runs with his 11th boundary in 82 not out off 84 balls.
Title favorites India or Sri Lanka will join England in the final on Sunday at Birmingham, where the hosts will try to win their first major one-day international title.
England's only previous Trophy final was also on home soil in 2004, when West Indies came from behind to win. All the drama on Wednesday was enacted in the morning, when England won the toss, threw the bowlers at South Africa in ideal overcast and muggy conditions, and watched them tear apart the Proteas to be 80 for 8.
Only a South Africa-record, ninth-wicket stand of 95 between David Miller and Rory Kleinveldt spared them from utter humiliation. A battery without the fearsome but injured Dale Steyn couldn't defend 175 in better batting conditions in the afternoon.
In South Africa's post-apartheid history of major events, it was another scar to add to chokes in the World Cup semifinals in 1999 and 2007, the quarterfinals in 2011, and the Champions Trophy semis in 2000 and 2002.
This was South Africa's and England's first major semi since the 1992 World Cup, the infamous, rain-affected match in which the Proteas needed 21 off the last ball. "I was crying that night," de Villiers said this week. He wouldn't have cried on Wednesday as he had longer to digest the inevitable result at The Oval.
Fast bowler James Anderson started the rout in the day's first over and took 2 for 14, while offspinner James Tredwell, the backup for the injured Graeme Swann, tied up the middle order in claiming 3 for 19 and an assist in a run out.
Pacemen Stuart Broad and Steven Finn were relatively expensive, but their first wickets were the biggest prizes; de Villiers and Hashim Amla respectively, the world's two leading batsmen in one-day internationals, and out for one run between them.
Both Proteas openers were gone within the first 10 deliveries. Colin Ingram was undone by Anderson in the first over before he'd scored, then the great Amla, with an average of 56, made only 1 before he nicked Steven Finn off the toe of his bat and gave wicketkeeper Jos Buttler the first of his six catches.
Finn, who rose to No.2 in the ODI bowler rankings without playing in the tournament, was brought in for Tim Bresnan and was seen off by Robin Peterson, who struck three successive boundaries off the fast bowler.
But Peterson, dropped on 25 off Broad, made 30 before he was trapped by Anderson, who set up his fall impressively. De Villiers lasted nine balls without scoring before he edged behind off Broad, who almost had replacement batsman JP Duminy on the next ball. But Duminy had the lbw decision against him reversed on review. When he was still to get off the mark, Duminy backed up to Tredwell and was hit middle and leg, confirmed by TV replay. But England didn't review.
The damage was minimal. Duminy was bowled for 3, third time unlucky, to Tredwell at 63 for 5 in the 17th over. Du Plessis edged Tredwell behind for 26, Ryan McLaren was run out for 1 by a smart Trott, and when Chris Morris gave another caught-behind off Tredwell, who had 3 for 8 off 17 balls, the Proteas were eight down for 80.
Without pressure, Miller and Kleinveldt slogged sensibly for 16 overs. Kleinveldt's best ODI score of 43 was ended by Broad, who also claimed last man Lonwabo Tsotsobe off the next ball to leave Miller stranded on 56 not out.