Cricket: Just the job for Johnson

World Cup: Zimbabwe 233-6 (50 overs) v South Africa 185 (47.2 overs) N C Johnson 76 S M Pollock 52 A A Donald 3-41 L Klusener 52* N C Johnson 3-27 Zimbabwe win by 48 runs
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IN THE first memorable shock of this World Cup, Zimbabwe - originally 66-1 outsiders - beat the favourites South Africa by 48 runs here yesterday. They wanted recognition for Zimabwean cricket, and they have now got it. Zimbabwe have qualified well for the Super Sixes, and the fascinating intricacies of this competition mean that if India also qualify, Zimbabwe will have a good chance of reaching the semi-final.

The South Africans, who were outbatted and outbowled, made the best of a bad day: "It's not a train smash," said Bob Woolmer, the South African coach. "I'm pleased it's happened now and not in the semi-final."

This startling victory was the consequence of one of the most bizarre batting collapses in the history of the World Cup, when South Africa lost their first six wickets for a mere 40 runs against an attack which had been written off as undistinguished. Not yesterday. Two off-spinners bowled tightly; the fast bowlers blasted batsmen out, and the fielders took three hard catches.

South Africa's strong tail was unable to compensate for the errors of their betters, despite scores of 52 from Shaun Pollock and Lance Klusener. Long before the game ended in the early evening murk, the reasons for the disintegration of a fine top order were being poured over. The first was that wives and girlfriends had arrived the day before.

Woolmer said he did not yet know. He did admit that the team's focus was not as strong as it should have been, but he also thought that the approach to the game had been too intense. You pays your money, but the South Africans did play as though they weren't up for the game. Clearly, it did not matter as much to them as it did to the Zimbabweans. Alistair Campbell, their captain, said that the win was a great day for the nation as well as its cricket. Zimababwe has experienced hard times recently. This will cheer the country up. Though how deep the feeling will run is another matter. Neil Johnson noted that they got a bigger crowd in Chelmsford than they would have done at home.

So, let us praise some rather anonymous cricketers. Johnson was a shoo- in for the man-of-the-match. He opened the batting and scored 76, the best in the game, and he opened the bowling, taking 3 for 27 in eight overs, including the wickets of Gary Kirsten, Jacques Kallis and Darryl Cullinan. These are people he has played against for years in provincial cricket in South Africa.

Johnson was born in Harare and repatriated himself recently when it became clear that he would not play for South Africa. He has a long lean face and fair hair. He said this was the best thing that had ever happened to him on the cricket field.

Praise Heath Streak, who speciality so far in this competition has been bowling wides, and he started as he was expected to go on. But he took wickets instead, three of them for 35, and held the sharp chance at short mid-on that dismissed Allan Donald, the last of South Africa's batsmen, just as Klusener, who had batted circumspectly, launched a last, desparate attack.

Praise Alan Whittall and Adam Huckle, the spinners. Alistair Campbell chose to bat so that the spinners could bowl on the wicket as it began to crumble in the afternoon. The pair bowled 20 overs for 76 runs. Whittall took two wickets.

But it will always be hard to explain why the rot set in so catastrophically. It began with the first ball of the innings when Kirsten fenced at a steeply rising ball from Johnson and was well caught by Guy Whittall in the gulley. 0 for 0. Next Herschelle Gibbs tried a quick run to a misfield at short mid-on and was run out. 24 for 2.

Streak had Mark Boucher caught at gully, but it was off a no-ball - to add to his four wides. Boucher was lbw only two balls later. 25 for 3. Kallis chased a wide ball outside the off stump and was given out caught at the wicket. 25 for 4. Hansie Cronje was yorked - 34 for 5 - and Jonty Rhodes played back and was plumb in front. 40 for 6.

It was at the time for an old fashioned lunch that the rude thought first surfaced that perhaps Zimbabwe were not only going to make a game of it, but might even establish a winning position, and seriously impede England's hope of making the Super Sixes.

When Andy Flower was run out, he lay for a while, disconsolate, assuming that, at 185 for 6, the best of his team's batting had been exhausted, and they had probably not scored enough runs to embarrass South Africa.

Only 54 runs came off the last 10 overs. And the Zimbabwe supporters drinking in the pavilion were muttering to each other: "233's not enough." They had ignored the tenacity of their bowlers, and the inadequacy on the day of South Africa's batsmen.