UAE's slow bowlers had tossed sugar into the fuel tank of the South African batting machine on a sluggish track at the Regional Stadium. But AB de Villiers' rapid 99 had it purring in no time for Farhaan Behardien to step on the gas in the final overs with an unbeaten 64 off 31 balls to reprise their record of scoring 300-plus every time they have batted first in this World Cup, and thump UAE by 146 runs.
You wouldn't want to be the team that comes up against South Africa after a loss. They have gone down nine times in ODIs in the last 12 months and have won the next game with a vengeance on five occasions - the most recent being a caning of West Indies by 257 runs in Sydney and De Villiers was the clincher again. He repaired a minor top-order wobble by adding 108 off 107 balls with David Miller and built his own innings towards the crescendo that has become a day-to-day occurrence.
De Villiers arrived in the 17th over as Mohammad Tauqir, the offspinner, and Amjad Javed, who may as well be called the offcutter, were in the middle of a productive spell. They gave away only 43 runs between the 11th and 21st overs and only twice did the ball reach the boundary. There were five times as many in the first 10, which highlights the skill of the two bowlers and South Africa's uncertainty against slow bowling.
Rilee Rossouw's stint at No. 3 was a perfect case study. There was no swing for the UAE seamers and they pitched the ball on either side of the good length area for Rossouw to punch and pull. Kamran Shazad, who replaced Manjula Guruge despite a 4 for 56 against Pakistan, was hit out of the attack after twin fours in three of his five overs.
South Africa cruised past 50 in the ninth over and Rossouw was 28 off 17. But he was beaten first ball by Tauqir's offspin and was fortunate his off stump was left standing. The same theme continued for the 13 balls Rossouw faced from the UAE captain, which cost only three runs, and his wicket for 43 off 49.
Even de Villiers was briefly tied down - 32 off 41 balls in the 29th over. But it was simply clever batting considering UAE's death bowling stocks wouldn't tempt a compulsive gambler and they conceded 101 runs in the final 10 overs.
UAE could have bailed themselves out had Javed taken a return catch off de Villiers in the 38th over. Instead, he had to watch his next ball sail beyond the midwicket boundary. There was another six, and three more fours, as de Villiers peppered the fence like an impulsive shopper flicking things onto his cart because he felt like it. Thirty-two off 41 had become 90 off 75 with hardly a fuss.
A fifth century in the last 25 innings beckoned, but one short of the mark, de Villiers sliced Shazad's medium pace to short third man. A crop of school kids clutched their heads in disbelief, but the man himself walked off with a smile. It was his first 99 in 178 innings, and his wicket allowed just enough time for Behardien to stake his claim as a finisher. He doesn't look powerful and there will be questions over his ability to handle better attacks, but his swipes and hacks were enough to secure five fours and three sixes in an unbeaten 31-ball 64. Mohammad Naveed had begun his spell with a beamer that nearly took down Hashim Amla, but he finished as UAE's most successful bowler with 3 for 63.
A target of 342 against the calibre of South Africa's pace attack meant UAE's only realistic aim was surviving 50 overs. There were spurts of brilliance - Amjad Ali's instinctive pull off Dale Steyn in the first over, Shaiman Anwar's vicious straight drives against Vernon Philander in the 26th over and Naveed hoisting Steyn into the stands behind long-on - but they were lost amid Steyn and Philander whizzing past the outside edge numerous times, Khurram Khan wearing a nasty bouncer on the ear and Andri Berenger helplessly fending a catch - a stunning one - to Rossouw at point.
The latter two incidents epitomised the menace of Morne Morkel, who finished with 10-2-23-2 and conceded only one boundary. Anwar 's efforts frustrated South Africa for 64 balls to claim the record for most runs by an Associate batsman in World Cups and Swapnil Patil's 100-ball 57 took them through to the 48th over. Some consolation during an innings that posed no threat to the target and a day on which they lost seamer Fahad Alhashmi to a knee injury on World Cup debut.
South Africa will still be worried about Quinton de Kock, though. He averages 8.8 in the tournament so far and today, he misjudged the pace of 130-140 kph bowlers and appeared similarly unsure of his running between the wickets.
His fifth boundary in as many matches took him to his highest score of the World Cup - 26 off 45 - and finally was undone by a canny offcutter from Javed. A tame format has allowed South Africa to carry out of form players and slip into the quarter-finals by beating only one top-eight side, but come the knockouts they will need all hands on deck to prove de Villiers' claims of being the best team in the world.