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Friday, June 11, 1999 Published at 11:37 GMT 12:37 UK


Aussies coming nicely to the boil

Neil Johnson: Man of the match display

BBC commentator Ralph Dellor reports on Australia's victory over Zimbabwe at Lord's.

Lord's can have a strange effect on teams and players appearing there for the first time. Either they are intimidated by the sense of grandeur at the old place and blame the pitch and the slope for everything that goes wrong, or they are inspired.

Zimbabwe in general and Neil Johnson in particular certainly came into the category of those who lift their game for the occasion.

For Australia, of course, appearing in London NW8 was nothing strange. They reacted favourably to the sight of some sunshine, a batsman-friendly pitch and an attack which was honest if not desperately penetrative.

It was 16 years to the day since Zimbabwe inflicted a famous World Cup defeat on Australia, at a time when the Southern Africans did not enjoy full Test status. On that occasion they made a pretty good fist of upsetting the odds again, even if they went into this one sitting proudly on top of the Super Six table.

Filled out

Lord's was not nearly full at the start, but the crowd filled out as the game developed. Most of the neutrals were backing Zimbabwe, partly because they were the underdogs and partly because English cricket followers like nothing more than seeing Australia embarrassed.


[ image: Mark Waugh: Another splendid performance]
Mark Waugh: Another splendid performance
Anyway, now that England have long since left the World Cup party, it could be said that the spectators are more comfortable supporting sides with little prospect of winning.

Put in to bat, the Australians lost an early wicket when Adam Gilchrist was palpably LBW to Johnson, before Mark Waugh chose to anchor the innings while Ricky Ponting blazed away at the other end.

However, Ponting was cut off in his prime when he dragged Henry Olonga onto his wicket, and then the somewhat wild and erratic bowler got a ball to lift onto Darren Lehmann's finger, ending his participation in this match at least.

Character

Olonga is an interesting character. Everything about him is unkempt, from his dread-locked and tinted hair to his flapping boot laces. The batsman just never knows what to expect. It could be an absolute pearler arriving at over 85mph, or it could go anywhere.

One thing is certain- cricket is never dull when Henry is pounding in at the gallop. While responsible for the effective dismissal of those two batsman, he also went for 62 runs from his 7 overs, although his second spell of two overs was much more controlled than the first five.

The retirement of Lehmann allowed Steve Waugh to join his twin brother in the middle and the brothers made life grim for the bowlers. They put on 129 from only 134 balls before Steve went for the slog against Guy Whittall to be bowled and Mark clipped Johnson to deep mid-wicket. Mark had very nearly fallen to a spectacular catch by Grant Flower at point when he cut at Heath Streak while still in single figures.

Just like Jonty Rhodes at the Oval, Flower flung himself upwards, parried the ball at full stretch, only to see it fall agonisingly out of reach as he went for the rebound. On such little details do so many matches turn.

But if Australia had their hero in Waugh, Zimbabwe had theirs in Neil Johnson. His second wicket partnership of 114 in 119 balls with Murray Goodwin reduced Zimbabwe's task from the impossible to unlikely.

Holed out

Just after Goodwin had received a drink- which he obviously did not want- and some instructions from the 12th man, he holed out, presumably against orders. Andy Flower got a beauty from Paul Reiffel straight after, and Zimbabwe were in trouble.

Alistair Campbell made a brief flurry, while Dirk Viljoen looked assured in his first match of the tournament until given out stumped by the third umpire. Lured out of his crease by Shane Warne, he tried to ground as Gilchrist removed the bails. A more experienced batsman might have stood his ground, but Viljoen made to walk.

Australians only walk when their cars run out of petrol, but the young Zimbabwean's action might have influenced the umpire in a tricky decision.

Johnson was himself beginning to run on empty, getting more and more tired, but he summoned up the energy to add 59 runs which could yet prove to be priceless to Zimbabwe in their quest for a semi-final berth. With Streak playing an admirable supporting role, Johnson was reduced to leaden-footed swings, but they were effective.

Having been on the game for the entire match taking two wickets and scoring 132 not out, there was no doubting the man of the match. Anyone who can smash Shane Warne -fully fit or not- for 16 in one over and 55 in his 9-deserves the accolade.

Australia showed that they are coming nicely to the boil in this World Cup and, having struggled to make the Super Six, could yet go on to win the whole thing. As for Zimbabwe, they demonstrated that they have every right to be dining at the same table as the Big Boys. And they are not out of it yet.



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