Strauss proud of England 'character'
It was looking ominous for Strauss’s side when they could muster only 171 all out in 45.4 overs and the Proteas began their chase in Chennai with a 63-run opening stand.
However, the outstanding Graeme Swann and Stuart Broad reduced their opponents to 82 for three before James Anderson struck twice, including the wicket of in-form AB de Villiers, as South Africa slipped to 127 for seven.
Even then, a 33-run stand between Morne van Wyk and Dale Steyn kept their team on course, but Tim Bresnan broke through and Broad struck twice more to clinch a famous six-run victory at the MA Chidambaram Stadium.
It was a far cry, albeit another tight finish, from losing to Ireland in Bangalore on Wednesday.
“It was a huge game for us, because after the Ireland game we needed to show some character,” said Strauss. “The guys dug very deep in the field - and I was delighted for the bowlers, who have been under the pump.
“We had to get on a roll and put them in a situation where there was pressure on and things happening with the pitch. It is tough for the tail to come in when the ball is spinning and doing things, because they are not as well qualified to deal with it.”
The same held true for England’s batsmen, their final six wickets falling for 37 - after the first three, including Strauss’, had gone for 15.
Only a patient 99-run alliance between Jonathan Trott and the recalled Ravi Bopara, who made 52 and 60 respectively, gave England a defendable total.
“It wasn’t one of our best wins ever because we batted poorly really,” Strauss added. “To lose three wickets early on a pitch like that was criminal really. Thankfully Trott and Ravi got us back in the hunt.”
Even then, the hard work was still to be done.
“You’re not going to defend 170-odd very often, so you need things to go your way,” said the captain, who had praise for off-spinner Swann and pace spearhead Anderson as well as Broad.
“Swanny bowled exceptionally well, while Jimmy Anderson and Broady made crucial breakthroughs at the right time when the ball was reversing.
“We’ve been involved in three very tight games so far in this World Cup, and we’re doing our bit to advertise the 50-over format. But we’d like them to be less close than they are.
“History suggests you don’t play on wickets like that, but sometimes those pitches make for the most entertaining cricket. If I was pushed on it, I’d say it broke up too much for an ODI - so that made it a good toss to win.”
The match was careering away from England until they won a DRS verdict for caught-behind off Swann against South Africa captain Graeme Smith to break the opening stand. Strauss had no doubts, though, that the right decision was made.
“We were absolutely happy, because we were absolutely certain that he gloved the ball,” he said. “I was fielding at slip, and there was a sound. In that sense, it was the right decision.”
Bopara, brought back into the side at the expense of Paul Collingwood, responded by equalling his career-best at this level and earned the man of the match award.
“I’m very pleased with the result - but the man of the match should have gone to Stuart Broad,” Bopara said. “I know he didn’t bowl his full quota of 10, but when he did bowl he was a massive difference and made it count.
“When me and Trotty got together we realised after about 20 minutes it wasn’t a great wicket and thought 200 would be a good score.
“We fell short, but we knew it would turn and reverse - and we had all those covered with Broad, Jimmy and Swanny.”
Smith found himself answering all-too-familiar questions afterwards, about his team’s reputation as ’chokers’ at big tournaments.
They already have two wins on the board, though, and still ought to progress to the last eight with ease.
“It’s obviously disappointing not to get over the line. I felt we had enough to do it at 120 for three,” said Smith. “I thought Faf (Francois du Plessis) and AB hung in there really well.
“If they could have hung in a few more overs it would have been terrific - I think we’d have got home. But losing those two wickets in such a short space of time was a big blow.
“I think Broad and Jimmy bowled particularly well with the reverse-swinging ball today. It’s always tough to face when they get it to reverse both ways.
“Credit to them for the skill they showed today. They were able to create a lot of pressure on the guys.”