Led by Neil Johnson, the all-rounder who in any other era would have been playing for South Africa rather than Zimbabwe, the outsiders batted with purpose and poise, making the most of a difficult assignment; but their bowling was a revelation to those unaccustomed to watching the youngest Test nation in action and in the end South Africa were well beaten in all aspects of the game.
Johnson, who was born in Zimbabwe but moved to South Africa at the age of nine before returning to the country of his birth last year, actually played for South Africa A after spells with Eastern Province and Natal, but with competition for a place in the Test side from the likes of Lance Klusener, Shaun Pollock and Jacques Kallis he eventually opted for Zimbabwe. This, by his own admission, was the match of his life.
In sharing partnerships of 65 and 66 for the first two wickets with Grant Flower and Murray Goodwin, the one-time Leicestershire player laid the foundations for victory with an innings that was flamboyant at first and then, as scoring runs became harder, admirable in its restraint. He took 57 balls to reach his fifty, and another 50 balls to reach 76, whereupon he became the first of three victims for Allan Donald, caught on the square- leg boundary by Pollock.
When South Africa batted, Johnson took the wicket of Gary Kisten with the very first ball, a sharply rising delivery splendidly caught low down in the gulley by Andy Whittall, and it was as if South Africa never recovered from the blow. Herschelle Gibbs was run out after a mix-up with Mark Boucher, who further blotted his copybook by falling lbw to Heath Streak in the very next over.
Twenty-five for 3 became 25 for 4 as the out-of-sorts Kallis went for a duck, caught behind off Johnson, and suddenly South Africa were in deep trouble. For once, the experience of Hansie Cronje and Jonty Rhodes failed to extricate them from the mire, and for a while it looked as though Darryl Cullinan might finally punch his World Cup weight but he lost patience with Andy Whittall's off-spin and it was left to Lance Klusener and Pollock.
The failure of South Africa's top order must be a growing concern for them going into the Super Sixes, as surely they cannot keep relying on the incredible Klusener who, this time with the assistance of Pollock, once more gave South Africa's innings an air of respectability with some mighty hitting towards the end.
Such is Klusener's ability that, even when 86 were needed from the last nine overs with just two wickets in hand, the outcome remained in doubt until Allan Donald finally fell to Henry Olonga in the 48th over. Klusener has now made 164 runs in four innings in this tournament and is yet to be dismissed.
But this was Zimbabwe's day. Aside from Johnson, Streak and Olonga bowled with pace and accuracy, their spinners Whittall and Adam Huckle did a fine containing job in the middle of the innings when Pollock and Klusener might have turned the game around, and all of their batsmen bar the captain, Alistair Campbell, chipped in, with Goodwin even providing the rare sight of a straight-driven six off Donald.
"We had nothing to lose," Campbell said. "Everybody had written us off, we hadn't played particularly good cricket so far in this tournament yet we'd still managed to win two games. We knew that if we got all three departments right we'd have half a chance.
"Our coach [Dave Houghton] wanted recognition for Zimbabwe cricket and the one thing he said to us before this game was just to go out there and show people that we can play cricket whether we win or lose."