Less than 24 hours after a dramatic six run victory over South Africa, England were dealt a blow with Kevin Pietersen ruled out of the rest of the tournament through injury.

Pietersen will fly back to England in the next 24 hours for a hernia operation, and England have already applied to the International Cricket Council (ICC) for Eoin Morgan to come in as a replacement player.

Pietersen, moved up the order to open during the World Cup, was clearly hampered during England’s remarkable Group B win over his native South Africa on Sunday, in which Pietersen made a duck.

Captain Andrew Strauss now has the task of choosing who will fill Pietersen’s role at the top of the order – with the technically sound Ian Bell a strong contender.

Meanwhile, Strauss praised England’s character after a tense six-run win over South Africa reignited their World Cup campaign but said he did not want any more cliffhangers.

England, just days after a shock three-wicket loss to minnows Ireland looked all but beaten as the in-form Proteas advanced to 63 without loss, chasing 172 for victory at the Chidambaram Stadium in Chennai on Sunday.

The Ashes heroes had tied with India in a remarkable game, in which both teams scored 338, earlier in the tournament.

“We’ve been involved in three outstanding games of cricket and we’ve done our best to advertise the 50-over format, but I would like them to be less close,” Strauss said after another nail-biting encounter.

England, with fast bowler Stuart Broad taking four wickets for 15 runs, engineered a South Africa collapse on a pitch that gave the bowlers plenty of help and became trickier for batting as the match wore on.

England made a dreadful start after Strauss won the toss and batted, with the skipper and Pietersen both falling to Robin Peterson’s left-arm spin in the first over of the match.

Peterson reduced England to 15 for three but man-of-the-match Ravi Bopara, recalled in place of Paul Collingwood, made 60 and shared what turned out to be vital stand of 99 with Jonathan Trott (52).

“It wasn’t one of our best wins ever. To lose three wickets early on a wicket like that was criminal,” Strauss said.

“Trotty and Ravi got us back in the hunt, Swanny (off-spinner Graeme Swann, who took one for 29) bowled outstandingly well and Broady and Jimmy (Anderson) picked up wickets at crucial times.

“We need to show a lot of character … I’m delighted for the bowlers, who’d been under the pump.”