The hosts had earlier set South Africa 312 to win after a stop-start innings. Jason Roy, Joe Root and Eoin Morgan all made 50 before Ben Stokes scored a considered 89 off 79 deliveries to propel England above the 300 mark.
Yet it was in the field that the favourites really impressed. Despite Quinton de Kock and Rassie van der Dussen picking off half-centuries, England manufactured wickets on a regular basis. Jofra Archer secured three of the ten, whilst Man of the Match Ben Stokes helped himself to a duo of wickets, a run out and two catches, one of which was quite incredible.
Failing to convert
If England were under any illusions as to how difficult this opening contest would be, they were soon reminded as early as the second ball. After winning the toss and electing to field first on The Oval pitch, Faf du Plessis surprised everyone by throwing the ball to spinner Imran Tahir to open the bowling. Seconds later, he caught the edge of Jonny Bairstow to dismiss the opener for a golden duck.
Roy and Root were to steady the ship with some solid footwork and sensible shots, both reaching their half-centuries in the same over. Yet, just as the hosts were beginning to dominate, Roy sliced a short Andile Phehlukwayo delivery straight to du Plessis, an over before Root cut Kagiso Rabada to JP Duminy.
South Africa were getting their success by adapting to the pitch and bowling a series of slower deliveries. Yet Morgan and Stokes started to rebuild, the former scoring 50 with three sixes, including back-to-back maximums.
Stokes quickly followed as he started to accelerate with 17 overs remaining, bringing up his half-century with a deft touch around the corner.
Stokes holds it together
Yet, as was the theme with the England innings, starts were often followed by stumbles. Morgan fell to Tahir as he was captured by an excellent Aidan Markram diving catch before Jos Buttler, Moeen Ali and Chris Woakes all walked back to the Pavilion in relatively quick succession.
At the other end, Stokes continued to grind away despite cutting a figure of frustration. He struggled to really release the shackles before finally being dismissed 11 runs short of his century as he scooped straight to Hashim Amla.
England eventually recorded 311-8, setting South Africa what would be the fourth-highest World Cup run chase. Lungi Ngidi finished his spell of bowling with three wickets.
Speed tears through South African upper order
Over to Jofra Archer.
There were still question marks over the pace bowler's selection but he soon proved the doubters wrong with a successful spell of hostile bowling.
Amla lasted just eight deliveries before an Archer bouncer caught the opener on the helmet and forced him to retire hurt. Markram took his place at the crease and, just as he was beginning to settle, edged another rapid Archer delivery straight to Root at slip.
England knew that breaking the next partnership would be critical as form players du Plessis and de Kock touched gloves at the crease. Yet the former faced just seven balls before being caught in the deep by Ali. The bowler? That man again.
Visitors self-destruct after brief spell of resilience
South Africa were on the ropes and they were fortunate not to lose anymore quick wickets, this time to the English spinners. Adil Rashid thought he had bowled de Kock, only for the ball to bounce off the stumps without removing the bails. Minutes later, Buttler put down a fine edge from Rassie van der Dussen off the bowling of Ali.
The duo used those lucky moments to their advantage as they hauled themselves back into the contest. Gradually accelerating, de Kock was enjoying playing shots all around the wicket before an unusual error abruptly ended the 85-run partnership. De Kock simply swung his bat at a Liam Plunkett short ball, holing out to Root at the longest boundary of the ground.
South Africa needed their experienced players to stand up and be counted but they continued to throw their wickets away. Duminy stuck around for only 11 balls before blasting the ball straight down the throat of Stokes. Three balls later, Dwaine Pretorius was run out by the same man in the field after trying to run a risky second.
New man Phehlukwayo survived a tight LBW review as van der Dussen racked up his fifth ODI 50 in just nine matches. Yet the number five failed to add to his total, dismissed by Archer in the first over of his second spell.
The Stokes Show
Then came the moment of the match. Phehlukwayo looked to have cleared Stokes in the outfield as he pulled away Adil Rashid. Yet the England fielder ran backwards, launched into a dive and stretched out an arm above his head to take a phenomenal catch that will be recognised as one of the greatest of all time.
The contest was as good as over by that point and even the returning Amla could not hold any resistance, feathering an edge through to Buttler off Plunkett.
It was apt that Stokes was on hand to finish the contest. Two wickets in two balls ended a brief slog-fest from the tail as England celebrated an excellent 104-run victory.