Ryan ten Doeschate produced a scintillating 119 from 110 balls, and followed up with the brilliant bowling figures of 2 for 47 in ten overs, to give England one of the biggest frights of their international lives. However, his very best efforts were not quite enough to propel the Netherlands to an incredible victory in their World Cup opener at Nagpur.
Faced with a massive target of 293, and humiliation on an even greater scale than they suffered at Lord's two years ago, England responded with a determined batting performance under the floodlights, and thanks to composed half-centuries from Andrew Strauss and Jonathan Trott, they eventually reached safety with six wickets and eight balls to spare. However, the final margin of victory did no justice to the journey they were forced to undertake. Had England stumbled, it would surely have gone down as the greatest upset in World Cup history.
The final overs were fraught with possibility, as England battled with a run-rate that barely dipped below seven an over, against a pumped-up team of performers who could mainline their adrenalin straight from that opening fixture of the World Twenty20. With 69 needed from the final ten overs, Trott was exquisitely stumped off a leg-side wide by Wesley Barresi, who had earlier launched the Dutch innings with a sparky cameo of 29 from 25 balls, and when the in-form Ian Bell was bowled middle stump by the final ball of ten Doeschate's spell, Nagpur really was living up to its reputation as the City of Orange.
That dismissal left England's fate in the hands of Paul Collingwood, who has barely been able to buy an international run all winter, and Ravi Bopara, whose inclusion at the expense of the second spinner Michael Yardy contributed to their problems in the field, but for which he ultimately atoned with a vital 30 not out from 20 balls, including a soothing six over long-off from the first ball off the 49th over - the first of England's innings.
It was Collingwood who proved the key, however. He was England's captain when they lost in 2009, and ten years earlier he had also been on the receiving end of a NatWest Trophy beating while playing for Durham in Amstelveen. The threat of a triple dose of humiliation compelled him to rediscover his fighting spirit, and he restored faith in both himself and his team with an unbeaten 30 from 23.
It was all extraordinarily fraught. Whereas previous shocks have revolved around batting collapses in helpful conditions - think Ireland in Jamaica four years ago, or West Indies against Kenya in 1996 - this performance was all about the weight of runs that the derided Dutchmen were able to pile onto England's shoulders. With Associate cricket in the spotlight like never before, following the decision to reduce the 2015 World Cup to 10 teams, and in light of the recent capitulations by Canada and Kenya in Group A, this was a performance that showed the sport's second tier in the best and most timely light imaginable.
ten Doeschate's prowess in limited-overs cricket is hardly a secret - he averaged 54 in the CB40 last season, and weighed in with nine wickets, as Essex advanced to the semi-finals - but England had no answers to his watertight technique and a shot selection that started out composed before exploding in the closing overs with 52 runs coming from his last 26 deliveries. He came to the crease in the 12th over and though he took 12 balls to get off the mark, the value in gauging the pace of the wicket paid off handsomely.
All told, ten Doeschate struck nine fours and three sixes in a 110-ball stay, the first of which came off a gentle full-toss from Kevin Pietersen, whose two overs were dispatched for 19 and highlighted England's folly in omitting Yardy - Bopara's medium-pace was not called upon. Swann, on his return to the team following the birth of his son Wilfred, was the pick of England's bowlers with 2 for 35 in ten tidy overs, while Stuart Broad was menacing if a touch expensive in his first full international since the Adelaide Test in December. But ten Doeschate treated the rest of England's attack with disdain, as he powered through to his fourth and highest century in 28 appearances for the Netherlands.
After calling for the Powerplay in the 43rd over, ten Doeschate lost his fifth-wicket partner Tom de Grooth, the hero of Lord's 2009, who was bowled by a Broad yorker for 28. But undeterred, he picked off consecutive boundaries from Tim Bresnan to move through the nineties, before reaching his first World Cup hundred from 98 balls and in remarkable fashion, as a sharp single to short fine leg turned into five overthrows when Trott's shy ricocheted off the stumps and away to the ropes.
On a night that belonged to the Dutchmen in spite of the final result, the nadir of England's performance was reached in the final six overs of their bowling effort. Only last summer, England's attack was touted as their likeliest route to World Cup glory, given how intricately each member of the attack knew their roles, and how quickly they were able to react to changing circumstances. However, the closing overs were a total shambles that would have disgraced a club side, given the breadth and variety of the errors that were committed.
A foretaste of the chaos came in Swann's seventh over, when ten Doeschate, on 47, launched a drive into no-man's land behind the bowler's arm, where James Anderson and Kevin Pietersen converged from mid-off and mid-on respectively, but stopped dead as the ball plugged harmlessly between them.
Anderson's day then went from bad to worse when he returned to the attack in the 46th over. His attempt at blockhole bowling resulted in two awful waist-high full-tosses, the second of which swung away down the leg side for four. Both were called as no-balls, and Anderson was very fortunate not to be withdrawn from the attack by the umpires. Or not as it happens, because the Dutch captain Peter Borren was delighted he remained. He belted three consecutive boundaries in a listless ninth over, to finish unbeaten on 35 from 24 balls.
England's embarrassment didn't end there. Though Broad showed some fight to end ten Doeschate's stay via a catch in the deep in the 49th over, he was denied the wicket of Borren in the same over when Collingwood at midwicket failed to take his required position inside the fielding circle. A no-ball was signalled, Borren was recalled, and there was still time for one more howler, as Swann shelled a sitter at third man to reprieve Mudassar Bukhari.
Netherlands' final total of 292 for 6 was their highest against a full-member nation, and the second highest by any Associate, beating the 230 they scored against England on this very day 15 years ago, at the 1996 World Cup. The hero that day was the 18-year-old Bas Zuiderent, who was the only Dutchman to miss out this time around, as he made 1 from 10 balls before becoming Swann's second victim. It was scant consolation for England on a day that they could not allow to get any worse.
The new opening pairing of Strauss and Pietersen went some way towards atoning for England's earlier errors with a 105-run stand in 17.4 overs. They started with clear intent as Strauss snaffled three fours in the first over, from Mudassar Bukhari - two clips off the toes and a fortuitous under-edged cut past off stump, en route to 88 from 83 balls, while Pietersen's first shot was a sweetly timed drive to a Berend Westdijk outswinger.
On a slow deck, Pietersen's instinct was to advance onto the front foot at every opportunity, and his timing seemed in fine fettle even though he kept picking out the fielders in a well-drilled Netherlands outfit. Strauss meanwhile hung back in his crease and took advantage of the Dutch inexperience to nudge and pull eight of his first nine boundaries behind square on the leg-side.
However, as the hardness went out of the new ball and Barresi came up to the stumps to restrict Pietersen's footwork, his returns tailed off appreciably. Having scored 29 from his first 31 balls, he made just 10 from his next 30, before Pieter Seelaar added his name to the list of left-arm spinners to have captured one of the more notable scalps in world cricket. A tempting delivery was tossed up outside off stump, and Pietersen failed to get his feet to the pitch as he poked an uppish drive to short cover.
In the end humiliation was avoided, and given the lop-sided format of the World Cup, England have already made a significant stride towards the quarter-finals. But with the in-form Indians looming in Bangalore on Sunday, there is no room for another performance this poor. The world is watching and the likes of Virender Sehwag won't be losing sleep.