CricInfo at World Cup 1999
[The ICC Cricket World Cup - England 1999]

South Africa v Zimbabwe, Group A
Trevor Chesterfield - 29 May 1999

Zimbabwe minnows bite back

CHELMSFORD - It is always easy to feel a touch sorry for a team such as Zimbabwe when up against one of the tournament's marauding sharks: yet when they turn from a meek minnow into a piranha with an accompanying savage bite, the stunning upset is just as staggering.

Forget that their coach Dave Houghton had, barely 24 hours before, called them ``a bunch of schoolboys'' and ``novices in the real world''. They were the sort of phrases dismissed with equal frank fresh-faced openness by Alistair Campbell, Team Zimbabwe's captain.

As man of the match Neil Johnson, talked of how motivation, personal goals and pride enabled him to play with a certain match-winning pride against a country he once aspired to represent, Zimbabwe celebrated not only their shock World Cup first round victory of 48 runs but also a first win over neighbours and World Cup 5/3 favourites South Africa, who they out-played at Essex's New Writtle Road county ground.

The result and general performance of the northern neighbours in what had been billed as a back yard scrap was also acknowledge by South Africa's coach, Bob Woolmer. It was he who had to face the media and explain how the team he mentors lost it in the middle.

``We went out to play as best we could,'' said Campbell. ``We talked about it and decided there was nothing to lose so we went out and enjoyed ourselves.'' Some enjoyment all right. Just the attitude you should expect from a captain and team-mates determined to go down with the sort of aggressiveness needed to upset big brother on a pitch where winning the toss also had some effect on the outcome of the result.

Woolmer, standing in for the South African captain, who declined to come out of his shower to face the media and so gave the appearance of ``sulking'' as the ``schoolboys'' from across the border enjoyed their moment of triumph, put on a brave face. He was also frank when admitting South Africa's shortcomings in the game and equally earnest with his comments.

``We played badly'' and ``they deserved to win - they were the better side'' and yet again ``perhaps we did stay too long in Amsterdam and lose focus in this match'' were the sort of pearls the coach decided to cast before a media seeking answers to what had been generally been a poor performance.

Which suggests that Woolmer is better fronting a curious pack, some of whom were a touch confused, than the team's captain. How different to a week before after the singularly impressive win over England where the taste of victory had the frothy taste of lager at the ground the now refer to as ``Fosters'' Oval. Well, Alec Stewart did not duck his responsibilities and took the questions on the chin.

As weather turned England's future in the tournament into a serious question mark with the game against India resuming later, South Africa face the serious prospect of going into the Super Six carrying forward only two points and not the hoped for four.

Johnson, born in Zimbabwe 29 years ago, lived and was educated in South Africa until last season but had been overlooked as a potential player because, as Woolmer pointed out, there were Shaun Pollock, Lance Klusener and Jacques Kallis who are available. Which is a fair comment. It at least freed the highly competitive all-rounder to take his talents north of the border.

The irony of it all is that Pollock and Klusener are former KwaZulu/Natal team-mates while South Africa's assistant coach Graham Ford, had been his provincial coach. Confusing to some non-South African writers looking for juicy tit bits on which to hang and angle for their story.

Yet, having seen Johnson come through the ranks as a student at Port Elizabeth University in the late 1980s and early 1990s where he became a highly competent all-rounder under Keeper Weasels guidance, it is not at all surprising that his background is just right for what can be the highly combative international arena. His match-winning innings of 76 was what Zimbabwe needed: the anchor to keep the innings afloat on a pitch which was two-paced and became slower and almost subterranean in bounce when South Africa batted.

He drove firmly and with some skill as Zimbabwe reached 233 for six, although the first few boundaries were off the inside edge which skidded away to the short boundary. And with the South African bowlers battling to strike a length Johnson took some delight in picking off his runs. Later he had the added bite of the piranha with his lively right-arm swing: the South African batsmen nibbling at the outswing. Gary Kirsten, Kallis and Cronje: victims of their own folly and seemingly lack of focus.

Although Klusener later launched his usual tail-end heroics he was sent in a little too late to make any real difference: 52 off 58 balls with three fours and two sixes.

What the victory means to Zimbabwe in Zimbabwe is another matter for a country which gives scant recognition to sporting heroes in the world arena. Their tardy media coverage is the sort of ignorance perpetuated by a system which lacks a forceful sports philosophy as well as identity. Perhaps beating big brother the first time might help.

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