Zimbabwe, New Zealand start off under new leaders
Zimbabwe will take on New Zealand in the first game of a two-Test series at the Queens Sports Club in Bulawayo from Thursday (July 28). The series will mark the comeback of Bulawayo as a Test venue for the first time since November 2011, when the home team had suffered a 34-run defeat at the hands of Ross Taylor-led New Zealand. Zimbabwe last played a Test in 2014 against Bangladesh — a three-match series which it lost 3-0.
This series will be Graeme Cremer’s first as Zimbabwe’s Test captain, although the leg-spinner has some experience of leading the side in the shorter formats. Hamilton Masakadza, the most experienced Zimbabwean with 29 Tests to his name, and Craig Ervine are expected to play key roles for the host, which is are without Tendai Chatara after the medium-pacer was ruled out of the series due to a niggle in his left ankle sustained during the three-day warm-up game between Zimbabwe A and the New Zealanders at the Harare Sports Club last week.
The 16-man squad for the series features four uncapped players in Taurai Mazurabani, Chamu Chibhabha, Peter Moor and Prince Masvaure.
New Zealand too comes into this series under a new leader, with Kane Williamson taking over from Brendon McCullum, who retired from international cricket in February. New Zealand last played in the longer format six months ago, but that should not be a problem leading up to this series as most of the players in its squad have been playing either in England’s county championship or the ongoing Caribbean Premier League 2016.
New Zealand’s preparations for the series have been good, with Martin Guptill, Henry Nicholls, BJ Watling and even Ish Sodhi scoring half-centuries against Zimbabwe A in their only warm-up game on tour. Sodhi went on to bag a four-wicket haul with his leg-spin when the home side batted. Mitchell Santner opened the batting for New Zealand in the second innings and became the fifth batsman from the touring camp to register a half-century in the match, leaving Zimbabwe A to chase 433 on the third and final day, which it fell well short of in the end.
There have been nine Test series between the two teams since they first locked horns in the longest format in 1992-93, but Zimbabwe is yet to win a match against New Zealand over the 15 Tests played between these two sides.
The track at Queen’s Sport’s Club is expected to be on the slower side and the visitor will need to ensure that it adjusts quickly and avoids complacency during the short tour before it proceeds to South Africa for a two-Test series beginning on August 19.