World Cup Vignette
South Africa flunk the Johnson test
A gifted allrounder at the heart of possibly Zimbabwe's best one-day side pulled the rug from under South Africa's feet in 1999
The epic semi-final of the 1999 World Cup between South Africa and Australia was the culmination of a chain of events that began in the league stage and were fashioned largely by Neil Johnson, a player at the heart of possibly Zimbabwe's greatest ODI side. Johnson, who had played for South Africa A before returning to his homeland, brought destructive batting and nippy swing bowling to the table and 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 on to loose offerings from Jacques Kallis with the new ball, an innings typified by the stand-and-deliver stuff and his disregard for reputation.
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 shortly thereafter to 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. That game also played a role in hastening England's departure from the World Cup - they needed to beat India and hope South Africa beat Zimbabwe; both results did not materialise - and South Africa could have avoided a semi-final clash against Australia had they won this game.