England’s batsmen followed up the great work of bowlers Ravi Bopara, James Tredwell and Steven Finn in restricting South Africa to 220 for eight as they breezed to 224 for four in 46.4 overs.
Bell scored a terrific 88 off 137 balls to lead the charge, and it was his second-wicket partnership of 141 in 30.5 overs with Jonathan Trott (48) which laid the platform for the victory, while Craig Kieswetter contributed a little gem of 21 not out off 12 balls at the death.
South Africa’s bowlers, Dale Steyn apart, failed to make much impression on a pitch that always had a bit of nibble in it.
The fired-up Steyn produced a great delivery at the end of the first over to trap Alastair Cook lbw for two, but Bell and Trott ensured there would be no stadium finish.
Trott began his innings in an aggressive frame of mind, but Steyn gave him a torrid time in the seventh over, the last of his opening spell, and struck the batsman a fierce blow on the hand, which made the rest of his innings an exercise in survival more than anything else.
Fortunately for England, Bell was quickly into his stride and the home side were so in control that South African captain AB de Villiers had made eight bowling changes by the halfway mark.
Bell was so assured that he regularly came down the pitch to the pacemen and the off-side was where he scored most impressively en route to collecting eight fours and a six in all.
South African fans were left wondering where Morne Morkel (being rested) was as the attack toiled through 30 overs without making an impression.
A chance to Robin Peterson at mid-on off Lonwabo Tsotsobe on 65, the dismissal of Trott, trapped lbw when he missed a sweep at Dean Elgar, and even a 16-minute rain delay all failed to dampen Bell’s enthusiasm and he looked well on his way to a century.
Ryan McLaren did manage to get Ravi Bopara (6) to edge a delivery through to wicketkeeper De Villiers in the second over after the rain break, but Eoin Morgan came in and quickly helped Bell to take England to the brink of victory.
Steyn did return in the 44th over and forced Bell to edge a lifter to De Villiers, but Morgan, with a run-a-ball 36 not out, and Kieswetter, with three fours and a majestic six to win the game, rushed England to victory.
PERPLEXING BATTING ORDER
A top-class bowling performance by England had earlier restricted South Africa to just 220 for eight.
It was a disappointing batting performance again by South Africa, admittedly on a tricky pitch that was not conducive to fluent strokeplay, but full credit to England’s bowlers who kept the pressure on superbly.
South Africa only reached 220 thanks to Peterson blazing 31 not out off 20 balls at the death, with the middle-order once again wasting the good work of openers Hashim Amla and Graeme Smith up front in putting on 68 for the first wicket after being sent in to bat in conditions that suited seam bowling.
The continued shuffling of the batting order was also perplexing. Elgar should have batted three, where his patient innings would have built on the opening stand, and the busy JP Duminy at six to finish the innings. Wayne Parnell was also batted out of his capabilities at seven again, with all-rounder McLaren mysteriously down at nine.
Having been sent in to bat in overcast conditions in the morning, Amla and Smith were obviously going to start cautiously and they successfully saw off the dangerous pace bowling of Finn, Jimmy Anderson and Jade Dernbach, with the help of a couple of dropped catches in the slips by Tredwell.
The fireworks seemed to have just been lit as South Africa reached 68 after 19 overs, but Dernbach surprised Smith with a fiery short ball that kicked up above his shoulders, the left-hander edging his attempted hook to be caught behind by Kieswetter for 29 off 54 balls.
South Africa were still comfortable however as Amla and Duminy took them to a hundred in the 25th over, but neither of them kicked on.
Bopara, bowling lovely in-swingers off the slope at off-stump, sent Amla packing for 45 off 73 balls when he beat his drive and bowled him through the gate.
In the next over, Duminy was carelessly off down the pitch to spinner James Tredwell, who held the ball back a touch and obtained enough turn to beat a push into the leg side, Kieswetter completing the stumping to dismiss the left-hander for 18 off 22 balls.
Bopara, the very epitome of British military-medium and effective in these conditions, then bowled Faf du Plessis for just a single. Du Plessis tried the almost-impossible – running an in-swinger coming down the slope to third man – and only succeeded in dragging the ball back on to his stumps.
Captain De Villiers was surely the man for the crisis at 115 for four, but his super-powers have waned since all the added responsibility of keeping wicket and being captain has been thrust on him.
De Villiers had promised much in reaching 39 off 46 balls when the Cape-schooled Kieswetter pulled off a sharp stumping after the captain had come down the pitch and tried to drive Tredwell’s straight delivery inside-out over the covers.
Parnell may be a highly effective batsman in village cricket, but he again failed to fire at number seven in the international arena, scoring five off 13 balls before Tredwell beat him with a well-flighted, sharp-turning delivery that gave Kieswetter a third stumping and the England ODI record.
South Africa were 174 for six in the 44th over, but Peterson fought fire with fire and stunned England with some audacious strokes as he collected four fours and a six.
Elgar had been the rock of the innings in scoring 35 off 59 balls, before Kieswetter and Finn combined to remove him off a slower-ball bouncer. Dernbach chipped in by running out McLaren for a single off the next delivery, before Peterson and Dale Steyn (3*) scored five runs off the final over.
England’s bowlers had banded together splendidly. Finn took 1-33 in his 10 overs and was unlucky not to get more reward in the cold early morning conditions.
Bopara was outstanding with 2-34 in nine overs, but spin also plays a key role on this Lord’s pitch, with Tredwell taking 3-35 in eight overs and left-armer Samit Patel bowling tidily as well.