Top Performances

All-round Johnson stuns South Africa

Andrew McGlashan
One Zimbabwean's performance against South Africa in 1999 ended up having significant consequences

Neil Johnson
76 and 3 for 27 v South Africa, 1999

The Zimbabwe team of the 1999 World Cup, unless there is a dramatic change, will go down as their greatest side, which says much about what has happened since. At the heart there was Neil Johnson, who'd played for South Africa A before returning to his homeland, and he brought destructive batting and nippy swing bowling to the table.

Both facets were on display in Chelmsford as he almost single-handedly inflicted South Africa's first defeat of the tournament. Johnson opened with a rasping 76, latching onto loose offerings from Jacques Kallis with the new ball. It was typical stand-and-deliver stuff from Johnson, who took no prisoners with the bat and wasn't bothered by reputation (he would later cane Australia at Lord's in a losing cause).

But still, a target of 234 shouldn't have been too much of a test for a South African team who'd been early tournament pace-setters. However, no one told that to the Zimbabwe new-ball attack, and Johnson led a dramatic demolition job removing Gary Kirsten with the first ball of the innings, caught in the gully. After Herschelle Gibbs and Mark Boucher had been dispatched by Heath Streak and a run-out, Johnson extracted Kallis, caught behind fourth ball, and yorked Hansie Cronje as the score lurched to 34 for 5 and would shortly become 40 for 6.

There was no way back for South Africa, despite another display of effortless hitting from Lance Klusener, and Zimbabwe progressed to the second stage of a World Cup for the first time. Meanwhile, the impact of this result was also being felt up in Birmingham where England were making a pig's ear of their run chase against India.

The game spilled into a second day due to the British summer and by the time England left the field they knew about the happenings in Chelmsford. If South Africa had won England would have gone through, but now they had to win. They didn't. Later in the tournament, South Africa went out in that semi-final against Australia, a match they could have avoided if they'd beaten Zimbabwe. In hindsight, this was some double-whammy from Johnson.

Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo