Johnson scores 132 not out for Zimbabwe

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Lord’s has not always been the happiest of grounds for Zimbabwe.

Two Test visits to the Home of Cricket brought two heavy defeats by an innings, and two One-Day Internationals also saw them fall short. But their performance in the first of these, on what was Zimbabwe’s first ever visit to Lord’s in any form of the game, brought them close to a surprising triumph.

The occasion was the Super Six stage of the 1999 ICC Cricket World Cup and their opponents were hot favourites, and eventual champions, Australia. The match began much as anyone might have expected - a superb century from Mark Waugh leading Australia to a total of 303 for 5. It seemed like the match was already won; Zimbabwe’s highest total in the tournament so far had been 252 in a group match against India. And when they began their reply there was nothing to suggest they might threaten Australia’s total. Openers Neil Johnson and Grant Flower progressed steadily to 39 before Flower fell lbw to Glenn McGrath from the first ball of the 11th over.

But by the end of the 22nd over, Australia had made no further breakthrough. Zimbabwe had reached 122 for 1 and Johnson had just slapped Tom Moody into the Mound Stand for six. He had been Zimbabwe’s most consistent batsman during the tournament, and he had looked comfortable from the first ball, scoring his first boundary with a delightful straight drive off McGrath. Now he was beginning to cut loose.

Australia’s growing nervousness was eased when Murray Goodwin and Andy Flower departed in the space of a few balls. Their most experienced batsmen gone with the target only half achieved, the odds were against Zimbabwe now. But Johnson kept going almost single-handedly in a defiant 132 not out from 144 balls. He cut the last ball of the innings down to the Warner Stand boundary having dragged his team to within 44 runs of Australia’s imposing total. It had been one of the most stirring displays of never-say-die batting ever witnessed at Lord’s and was fittingly acknowledged with the Man of the Match award.