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England v South Africa Semi-final ICC preview

Cricket results are measured in runs and wickets, but it also sometimes comes down to minutes and millimetres, which is why perhaps it is South Africa facing England tomorrow at the Oval in the first of the ICC Champions Trophy semi-finals, rather than the West Indies up against New Zealand.

Both South Africa and England have battled impressively to reach the last four, but if either go on to win the Trophy – they are 3/1 and 14/5 respectively with Coral – they will look back at the luck they each enjoyed in their final group games.

If the Cardiff rain had held off for just two more minutes, or if Kieron Pollard had simply left his final ball sail harmlessly through to the wicket-keeper rather then slashing it into the grateful hands of third man, it would have been the Windies through on the Duckworth-Lewis method.

And had the third official confirmed the umpire’s suspicion that Stuart Broad had dismissed the well-set and dangerous Kane Williamson with a no-ball, there is a fair chance that the Kiwis would have gone on to win. It looked impossible to call, even with the benefit of umpteen replays, but England were granted the benefit of the doubt.

But we are where we are and now there’s a fight on to see who makes the final and a probable clash with Coral’s 8/5 favourites, India, who needed no rubs of the green to march through their group unbeaten.

England knew they had to get on with it early doors in a rain-shortened match against New Zealand and they did, Alastair Cook leading by example with a rapid 64. The captain is 11/4 to again outscore his teammates at the Oval.

But it was the bowlers who ultimately won the day, particularly the always-reliable James Anderson, Stuart Broad and James Tredwell, who has been so effective as Graeme Swann’s stand-in that nobody will be too concerned if England’s injured number one spinner has to sit this one out, too.

And it is England’s impressive bowling unit that might just swing it tomorrow, in more ways than one. Tredwell is 4/1 with Coral to be England’s top bowler and even if he doesn’t take a bunch of wickets, his ability to keep the opposition batsmen in check mid-innings could have a vital bearing on the outcome.

South Africa have fought tooth and nail to overcome the huge disadvantage of being without three of their star men, Graeme Smith, Jacques Kallis and Morne Morkel, and morale is high now that world-class quickie Dale Steyn is back in the side.

But this might be just one step too far for the under-strength Proteas and England are slight favourites (4/5) with Coral to progress to the final, just as they did the last time the tournament was held here in 2004.

Written by Jon Freeman