For all the pomp and ceremony that will accompany a historic first four-day day-night Test at St George’s Park Zimbabwe will be looking to measure their progress.
Having seen how badly things can go for visiting teams in South Africa Zimbabwe will take little solace from any perceived similarity in conditions in the two nations.
Zimbabwe’s own pitches tend to be dry and slower offering little for the quick bowlers and while St George’s Park is known as the slowest of South Africa’s pitches it provided plenty for seamers when Sri Lanka visited last December.
The tourists rely heavily on the spin of Graeme Cremer to back up frontline seamers who are closer to military medium than express pace although uncapped lanky seamer Blessing Muzarabani is an exciting prospect.
Zimbabwe have found themselves relying on lower order rallies even during their fighting efforts in Sri Lanka something they can ill-afford against a quality attack.
Top order men Chamu Chibhabha, Hamilton Masakadza and young Ryan Burl will have to step up and provide some protection against the new pink ball for the lower-order men.
For South Africa this Test was something of an afterthought, required after India postponed their arrival for the tour to fulfill FTP commitments to Sri Lanka.
There is an air of the warmup about this match for the Proteas but the same could have been said for their clash with Bangladesh and in those two matches they were ruthless, particularly with ball in hand.
The top order will want to get some time out in the middle with white ball cricket dominating the domestic scene since November and limiting match practice for Test specialists.
Dean Elgar has the opportunity to finish the year as the leading Test runscorer with Steve Smith breathing down his neck and playing against England in Melbourne.
Dale Steyn’s return means that one of the established quicks has to make way with Vernon Philander also back to full fitness.
It seems likely that South Africa will drop the desperately unlucky Morne Morkel who has been in good touch since returning from injury last season.
Kagiso Rabada and spinner Keshav Maharaj should round out the attack with the pair leading wicket-taking in Test cricket for the Proteas over the last year.
The Proteas have to find space in their XI for AB de Villiers with Temba Bavuma the man who may miss out despite his integral role in the team’s recent success.
Faf du Plessis’s Proteas should have too much quality for Zimbabwe though the pink ball could provide some interesting moments.
Hashim Amla was on a hot streak against Bangladesh and will look to keep that form rolling as the prospect of facing India draws nearer.
Rabada has been the Proteas key fast bowler for the last 18 months and the return of Steyn and Philander won’t change that.
Masakadza needs to get runs for his team showing the youngsters in the team the way forward.
Kyle Jarvis is somebody with some pink ball experience having played in England and he could well porve to be the pick of Zim’s bowlers.
Hours of play (local time): 13.30 (11:30 GMT) start, Lunch 15.30-16.10, Tea 18.10-18.30, Close 20.30
26-29 December 2017 – day/night match (4-day match)
Umpires: Richard Kettleborough and Paul Reiffel
TV Umpires: Michael Gough
Reserve Umpire: Shaun George
Match Referee: Chris Broad