South Africa 175 for 1 (Gibbs 93*, Smith 58) beat Zimbabwe 174 for 8 (Streak 54) by nine wickets

The only way is up: Doug Marillier skys an attempted hook and falls to Makhaya Ntini

From a neutral spectator's point of view, this was one-day cricket at its most unappetising. The side batting first - Zimbabwe - never scored enough runs and their lack of firepower meant that they had little chance of springing an upset when South Africa batted. The only surprise was that the half-full ground at Sophia Gardens had not left in search of a more even contest - the school bully picking on the smallest boy in the local playground for example - long before the formality of Herschelle Gibbs hitting the winning run.

With South Africa finding their form, the odds were stacked against Zimbabwe anyway, and when Heath Streak lost the toss in conditions which were going to favour the bowlers early on, and on a ground where the side chasing is historically at an advantage, Zimbabwe were on the back foot. From the start of their innings through to the premature end of the match, they never got off it. South Africa's decision to field under leaden skies at Cardiff was justified by a polished bowling performance which left Zimbabwe struggling to post any kind of total. Only a defiant fifty by Streak enabled Zimbabwe to reach 174 for 8 in their 50 overs, but that was far more than looked likely at the halfway stage when they were languishing at 67 for 4. South Africa were in no mood to be generous, and Graeme Smith and Gibbs powered them to within touching distance of the finishing line with clinical efficiency.

Zimbabwe's innings never gained any real momentum - the run-rate hovered under three an over almost throughout - and none of the top-order batsmen tried to break the stranglehold first applied by Shaun Pollock and Makhaya Ntini. Only one over in the first 25 went for more than four runs - the eighth of the innings from Ntini which produced 13 - and the batsmen found the combination of a seaming ball and some good ground-fielding almost impenetrable. The early frustration accounted for Doug Marillier - caught for 4 when he tried to pull a ball from Ntini which was on him quicker than he expected (11 for 1) - and Travis Friend, who was bowled by Charl Langeveldt attempting a indescript leg-side waft for 12 (36 for 2). When Jacques Kallis got one to leap at Dion Ebrahim there was little the batsman could do except fend the ball to the wicketkeeper, Mark Boucher (38 for 3).

Grant Flower and Tatenda Taibu set about rebuilding, and for a time looked to have stemmed the flow of wickets. Taibu rode his luck, edging Ntini over Boucher's fingertips off an attempted hook, but the introduction of Paul Adams brought the stand to an end. Adams's variety worried the batsmen - some balls were bang on target, others surprisingly wayward - but Taibu was deceived by a straight one and trapped leg-before with the last ball of the 25th over. When Stuart Matsikenyeri clipped Andrew Hall straight to Jacques Rudolph at backward square-leg for 1 a sub-100 total loomed (80 for 5).

Streak had other ideas and, circumspect at first, he then counter-attacked, smashing two fours off in one over from Hall, then cracking Kallis for a four and the next ball bringing up his fifty with a lofted six over extra cover. The crowd, subdued for most of the morning, finally, briefly, came to life. Kallis got his revenge with the first ball of his next over when Streak dragged a wide ball into his stumps for 54.

Faced with an undaunting asking rate of under three-and-a-half an over, Smith and Gibbs could have bored the crowd into submission, but they chose to smash the bad balls, and there was no shortage of them from the wayward Zimbabwe bowlers. Smith reached his fifty without really looking convincing while Gibbs, who came into this match wondering where his next run was coming from, was not going to waste the opportunity to make a score, even if he will face more testing challenges in his local club's nets. England's bowlers will not have appreciated Zimbabwe's profligacy in bowling him back into form.

Gibbs, who was named Man of the Match, had two pieces of luck. He survived a confident appeal for a catch behind off Streak - the replays were inconclusive but Streak clearly through he had his man - and was then bowled off an Andy Blignaut no-ball. Gibbs might look back on this match as a watershed, but even if he had been dismissed on either occasion the outcome of the match would not have been affected.

Smith eventually fell for 58, nibbling at Sean Ervine with 21 runs needed, but by then Zimbabwe's body language showed that the white flag had long since been raised. They travel to Bristol to play England tomorrow needing to improve on every single aspect of their game. The gulf between them and South Africa today was a chasm, and their win over England at Nottingham must feel as if it was an age ago.