First Test preview: West Indies v Zimbabwe

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The West Indies have the chance to extend a four-Test winning streak that started almost a year ago, while Zimbabwe have a point to prove – to their administration – in the absence of batting coach Grant Flower and bowling mentor Heath Streak.

The West Indies have the chance to extend a four-Test winning streak that started almost a year ago, while Zimbabwe have a point to prove – to their administration – in the absence of batting coach Grant Flower and bowling mentor Heath Streak.

The Windies have not won five matches in a row in over 20 years, and this week – coupled to a quartet of triumphs over Bangladesh and New Zealand last year – presents their best opportunity in a long time to welcome the quintet.

They'll have an air of stability in their batting ranks, including the recalled Marlon Samuels and prolific Shivnarine Chanderpaul, to help achieve the feat too. The addition of Narsingh Deonarine, too, would lengthen the order – though an additional bowler is the probable pick.

The decision to rest Sunil Narine – not drop, as Ottis Gibson will insist – has reopened the door for Shane Shillingford again. On the periphery since his run-in with the long arm of the game's law, a spinner with a dodgy bowling action will benefit from conditions in Bridgetown. Australia were tested by turn in 2012 – and the same awaits Zimbabwe.

Changes in the setup and budget cuts have left the tourists without Flower and Streak in the Caribbean, where their presence was sorely missed during the limited-overs series. Indeed, the players will be eager to perform without the oversight – but a clear message to the powers-that-be that additional coaching staff for future series should be the standard rather than the exception.

This week brings Zimbabwe just their fifth match since the end of their six-year hiatus from Test cricket in 2011. Too, is the chance to hurt a potentially fragile opposition at a venue that has proven less and less of a fortress for the previously dominant Windies.

<b>Key Men</b><br>Back from injury and determined to strut his stuff after an indifferent stint in the Big Bash League, <b>Marlon Samuels</b> enjoyed a handy half-ton for the Sagicor High Performance Centre in last week's tour fixture – and will be chasing more.

<b>Hamilton Masakadza</b>, in the middle order, fetched a fine century in the same fixture at the Desmond Haynes Oval in Black Rock. Particularly at ease with the conditions and pace of Kemar Roach, it'll be his time to cash in on the biggest stage.

<b>Last Five Head-To-Head Results</b><br>2003: Second Test: West Indies won by 128 runs in Bulawayo<br>2003: First Test: Match drawn in Harare<br>2001: Second Test: Match drawn in Harare<br>2001: First Test: West Indies won by an innings and 176 runs in Bulawayo<br>2000: Second Test: West Indies won by 10 wickets in Jamaica

<b>Prediction</b><br>Online betting firm <a href='http://www.skybet.com/cricket' target='_blank' class='instorylink'><b>Sky Bet</b></a> have the West Indies at 1/6 and Zimbabwe at 14/1 in the odds to win the first Test. Visit Sky Bet for the latest cricket <a href='http://www.skybet.com/cricket' target='_blank' class='instorylink'><b>betting</b></a>.

More <a href='http://https://twitter.com/bet365' target='_blank' class='instorylink'><b>cricket bets here.</b></a>

<b>Probable Teams</b><br><i>West Indies:</i> Chris Gayle, Kieran Powell, Darren Bravo, Marlon Samuels, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Denesh Ramdin (wicketkeeper), Darren Sammy (captain), Shane Shillingford, Tino Best, Shannon Gabriel, Kemar Roach.

<i>Zimbabwe:</i> Tino Mawoyo, Vusi Sibanda, Brendan Taylor (captain, wicketkeeper), Hamilton Masakadza, Sean Williams, Timycem Maruma, Regis Chakabva, Keegan Meth, Graeme Cremer, Chris Mpofu, Kyle Jarvis.

<b>Dates:</b> 12-16 March<br><b>Morning session:</b> 10:00-12:00 (14:00-16:00 GMT)<br><b>Afternoon session:</b> 12:40-14:40 (16:40-18:40 GMT)<br><b>Evening session:</b> 15:00-17:00 (19:00-21:00 GMT)<br><b>On-field umpires:</b> Bruce Oxenford and Ranmore Martinesz<br><B>Third umpire:</B> Tony Hill<BR><b>Match referee:</b> Jeff Crowe

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