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The Electronic Telegraph South Africa v Zimbabwe, Group A
Rob Steen - 29 May 1999

South Africa are chastened

His patience stretched by a rare show of mortality from the tournament favourites, a green-shirted spectator cajoled: ``Give Jonty a bowl.'' Allan Donald, who was doing the honours at the time, can seldom have felt more humble.

At one stage Zimbabwe looked good for a challenging total in their quest for qualification and a maiden one-day victory over their Southern African uncles. Normal service, inevitably, was resumed; Jonty's purportedly dastardly dobbers, sadly, remained unglimpsed. Whereupon the South African top-order decided that humility was catching.

Any suggestions that South Africa were inclined to take it easy could be dispelled by a glance at the team sheet: for the fourth game running they were unchanged. ``We want to keep it going,'' Bob Woolmer explained. ``It is more important that the key players keep in form.'' To judge by their batting, however, lethargy understandably may be creeping in. How long, pray, can you sustain perfection?

The pitch freshened by a heavy shower between innings, the spiral began with the very first ball, Gary Kirsten continuing his poor trot as he gloved Neil Johnson to gully. The next wound was wholly self-inflicted. Mark Boucher called Herschelle Gibbs for a single that existed primarily in his imagination and Adam Huckle's throw saw Gibbs well adrift.

Boucher was spared when caught at point off a Heath Streak no-ball but failed to profit, departing leg before in the same over swishing inelegantly across the line. Nor did Jacques Kallis tarry, caught behind as Johnson's outswinger found purchase in the muggy atmosphere.

The whooping and hollering didn't stop there. Johnson soon yorked Hansie Cronje, and when Streak trapped Rhodes in the following over South Africa were teetering on 40 for six. Even a side with a non-existent tail is liable to struggle from that sort of platform.

On Friday, David Houghton, the Zimbabwe coach, whose bullish pronouncements prior to the meeting with England rebounded on him with some force, set his stall out in equally uncompromising terms. If his team were to glean the win they needed, all-out attack was the only way. ``You've got to knock them right over,'' he reasoned, the clear inference being that fielding first and bowling the opposition out cheaply was imperative. All of which begs the question: why did Alistair Campbell opt to bat? Fortunately, the South African batsmen looked like saving him from any overt self-scrutiny.

Initially, admittedly, things went reasonably well for the Zimbabwe batsmen. Johnson, whose form had receded dramatically since his swaggering dominance in the first game against Kenya, collected a boundary from the opening over bowled by Shaun Pollock, as did Grant Flower. Kallis commanded barely more respect, the pair cantering past 60 in the 12th over.

Nor did the introduction of Donald quell the uprising. Instead, it was the more prosaic Steve Elworthy who made the breach in his opening over, having the younger Flower held at slip edging a loose drive.

Johnson was now joined by Murray Goodwin, who had hitherto failed to punch either his weight or his only marginally less considerable reputation: neither was in any mood to kowtow.

Timing to the fore, Johnson eased Elworthy through extra cover to reach 50 with his 10th four; Goodwin square-cut Donald, a butcher slicing a particularly succulent ham. When he on-drove Elworthy for similar reward Zimbabwe were 91 for one after 20 overs, sap and temerity rising as one.

That, though, was about as good as it got. The problem thereafter was the signal failure to accelerate, which had much to do, unexpectedly, with Lance Klusener.

Although the Natalian entered the match boasting much the best strike-rate in the competition, economy has scarcely been his forte; against all but the Kenyans he had gone for five an over. Now, however, he plucked yet another string on that multi-faceted bow, stifling Johnson to such an extent that he was unable to supplement his boundary count.

He took only one wicket but it was a priceless one, Goodwin, seemingly deceived by a change of pace, miscuing to mid-on. Andy Flower picked up the baton with customary fortitude but the return of Donald paid off when he persuaded Johnson, visibly straining at the leash, to swipe to deep midwicket, then promptly pinned Campbell in front two balls later - his 200th one-day international victim.

While Flower was blooming hope remained, but an overly optimistic dart for a second saw him run out by Pollock. From thereon in, extravagance was eschewed, steady acquisition the keynote. Cronje bustled through nine overs himself, doubtless to keep his regulars fresh for the more significant battles to come.

Source: The Electronic Telegraph
Editorial comments can be sent to The Electronic Telegraph at et@telegraph.co.uk