For 96 overs, with Ryan ten Doeschate having turned in one of the great all-round performances in World Cup history, the Netherlands dared to believe.
England needed 33 from the last 24 balls, but before the nails could be bitten too much Ravi Bopara and Paul Collingwood dusted off the big shots and saw their team home with eight deliveries to spare.
Both finished unbeaten on 30 and added 55 in 5.4 overs as the Netherlands were left to reflect on what might have been if they’d had one more world-class performer with the ball.
Pieter Seelaar bowled his left-arm spin with no little skill and the medium-pacers toiled manfully, but their lack of top-flight experience showed. The way England started, few could have imagined such a tight finish.
While Kevin Pietersen tried too hard to muscle the ball around, Andrew Strauss scored much quicker while finding the gaps.
The Dutch did not help their cause by bowling far too often at his pads. Of the nine fours that Strauss hit, only one was through the offside.
But as has often been the case in his career, Pietersen fell to a left-arm spinner and, with ten Doeschate showing some clever variations with the ball, the Netherlands reined in the run rate.
Strauss fell trying to up the ante after a classy 88, and it was left to Jonathan Trott, on course to become the fastest batsmen to 1,000 runs in one-day internationals, to take charge.
He and Ian Bell did so without undue alarm until the batting power play was taken.
Again, it was ten Doeschate who left his imprint on proceedings, having Trott stumped down the leg side and then bowling Bell off the inside edge.
But Collingwood’s experience – this was his 194th cap – proved the difference as he and Bopara, called in to the squad to replace the injured Eoin Morgan, took 10 runs apiece off the 47th and 48th overs. Bopara ended it with a sequence of 6-2-4-4.
But not even the finish could deflect attention from ten Doeschate’s man-of-the-match performance.
Watchful initially, he played some glorious strokes on either side of the wicket once he settled, and the Dutch plundered 131 from the final 15 overs.
Four chances went down, including ten Doeschate on 47, and James Anderson and Stuart Broad took a pummelling in the final stages.
The only bowling positive for England came from Graeme Swann’s return. He bowled superbly to chain two for 35 and will doubtless have a big role to play against India on Sunday. “We’re certainly not satisfied with our performance with the ball and in the field,” said Strauss after the game.
“The last 10 overs were especially poor. We can’t afford to drop that many catches. A score of 290 was far too many.”
Ten Doeschate is a late developer who made his debut for the Netherlands at 26, and he said he had never heard of any interest from selectors in his native South Africa or in England, where he plays county cricket for Essex.
“Right now, we’re just massively disappointed,” he said. “We thought we had a real chance, but it wasn’t one of our better bowling performances. If we had bowled as we can, we might have won.”
England can take heart from a fairly solid batting display, though the bowlers and fielders will need to be far better to escape a hiding against India. “Hopefully, India will take us lightly after this performance,” said Strauss with a wry smile.
Four years ago Ireland, another associate nation in this group, shocked Pakistan at Sabina Park.
In Nagpur, just days after Haroon Lorgat, the International Cricket Council’s chief executive, had said the small fish had no place in the big pond, ten Doeschate came up with the second-highest score – Dave Houghton’s 142 for Zimbabwe against New Zealand in 1987 tops the list – made by an associate batsman against Test-playing opposition. Oranje faces all round.
Alexei Kervezee c Prior b Bresnan 16
Wesley Barresi st Prior b Swann 29
Tom Cooper c Anderson b Collingwood 47
Ryan ten Doeschate c Bopara b Broad 119
Bas Zuiderent c Collingwood b Swann 1
Tom de Grooth b Broad 28
Peter Borren not out 35
Mudassar Bukhari not out 6
Extras: (3b, 3lb, 2w, 3nb) 11
TOTAL: (for six wickets, 50 overs) 292
Fall of wickets: 1-36, 2-58, 3-136, 4-149, 5-213, 6-274.
Did not bat: Pieter Seelaar, Bernard Loots, Berend Westdijk.
Bowling: James Anderson 10-0-72-0 (2nb), Stuart Broad 10-2-65-2 (1nb, 1w), Tim Bresnan 10-0-49-1 (1w), Graeme Swann 10-0-35-2, Paul Collingwood 8-0-46-1, Kevin Pietersen 2-0-19-0.
Andrew Strauss c Cooper b Bukhari 88
Kevin Pietersen c Borren b Seelaar 39
Jonathan Trott st Barresi b Ten Doeschate 62
Ian Bell b Ten Doeschate 33
Paul Collingwood not out 30
Ravi Bopara not out 30
Extras: (1b, 2lb, 11w) 14
TOTAL: (for four wickets) 296
Fall: 1-105, 2-166, 3-224, 4-241.
Bowling: Mudassar Bukhari 9-0-54-1, Berend Westdijk 7-0-41-0, Bernard Loots 9.4-0-74-0 (2w), Pieter Seelaar 10-0-54-1 (2w), Ryan ten Doeschate 10-0-47-2 (1w), Tom Cooper 3-0-23-0.
Result: England wins by six wickets.