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5th Super Six Match: Australia v Zimbabwe
Tony Cozier - 9 June 1999

Brave Zimbabwe fall short

Aussies get scare

Australia achieved their expected triumph with plenty to spare but not before they were given a real scare by brave Zimbabwe in their Super Sixes World Cup match yesterday.

Even as they completed their fourth successive victory in the tournament-and second in the round-by 44 runs in an entertaining contest in the Lord's sunshine that yielded 562 runs, five sixes and 49 fours, weaknesses in their bowling were starkly exposed, principally by the high quality, attacking batting of Zimbabwe's left-handed opener Neil Johnson.

Dominating proceedings from first ball to last in an unbeaten 132, Johnson could be contained by no one except Glenn McGrath, now indisputably back to his probing best. While McGrath gave up only 33 from his 10 overs on the best batting pitch of the tournament, four of Australia's six bowlers conceded over five runs an over and the other, Damien Fleming, went for 46 from his 10.

They will have to be more parsimonious in their last Super Sixes match against South Africa at Headingley on Sunday which could well decide whether they advance to the semi-finals. After today's result, Zimbabwe still have five points, with Pakistan left to play at the Oval tomorrow, and Australia four.

Johnson was born 29 years ago in what was then Rhodesia. But he had his cricket-as well as academic-education in South Africa where he played for Eastern Province and the South Africa A team before realising his most realistic hope of an international career was to return to the land of his birth which he did last year.

He has been one of the outstanding performers in the World Cup, a lively, right-arm new ball bowler, and no-nonsense left-handed batsman.

Making the most of the friendly surface to drive through the line, he was especially severe on the declining leg-spin of Shane Warne, plundering four boundaries in his second over, another in his third and a couple more when Steve Waugh brought him back for a second spell.

He hoisted big sixes square off Tom Moody and over long-off from Fleming and also stroked 14 fours from the 144 balls he received. It was only the third Zimbabwean hundred in World Cup cricket and was good enough to earn him the Man-of-the-Match award.

It was a significant and deserving honour for he had outstripped an earlier, typically classical 104 for Australia by Mark Waugh, one of the game's most graceful players.

Waugh's innings, compiled off 120 balls with 13 mainly leg-side boundaries, was his fourth hundred in World Cup cricket, following his three in India and Pakistan in 1996. No one else has scored as many.

His partnership of 129 off 21.5 overs with captain and twin brother, Steve, was the basis of Australia's 303 for five.

Steve made a run-a-ball 62 before he was bowled swiping at medium-pacer Guy Whittall. His greatest threat came from his brother whose fierce drive off leg-spinner Paul Strang cracked him on the helmet at the opposite end and demanded a replacement grille.

Michael Bevan, once more finishing expertly, and Moody provided the closing propulsion with an unbeaten partnership of 55 off the last 7.1 overs.

It was an imposing challenge for Zimbabwe, the Cinderellas of the tournament, who are within a match of making the semifinal. But as Johnson and Grant Flower set off with crisp strokes that raised 36 for the first wicket in the first 10 overs and then Johnson and Murray Goodwin took the fight to their opponents in a stand of 117 in 18.1 overs, the Australians looked decidedly vulnerable.

Warne, for so long Australia's most potent weapon, held no terrors for batsmen in the recent series in the Caribbean and has held none here.

He was taken for 49 off six overs by India at the Oval last Friday and he was hit around at will by Johnson and his accomplices yesterday.

As they did in the West Indies when he was dropped, Australia's hierarchy may soon have to make a difficult decision about his place for the remainder of the campaign.

Goodwin, a neat right-hander, is another of the Zimbabweans to benefit from overseas grounding and his 47 off 56 balls with seven fours, mainly cuts and pulls, reflected his years in Western Australia.

At his wits' end trying to separate the two, Steve Waugh turned to Bevan's left-arm wrist spin and it did the trick.

Goodwin, sweeping against the googly, hit a catch to deep square-leg and the innings could not maintain the necessary momentum after that.

It was a relief for the Australians. Even though it was 16 years to the day in the 1983 World Cup when they went under for their only time against Zimbabwe, they could hardly have anticipated such a challenge once the Waughs had capitalised on the conditions.

It has revealed a certain worrying vulnerability.

Source: The Express (Trinidad)