First Test preview: Zimbabwe v Pakistan

Every 'i' dotted and each 't' crossed, Zimbabwe can put their boardroom negotiations on the backburner and concentrate on the task at hand – upending Pakistan.

Every 'i' dotted and each 't' crossed, Zimbabwe can put their boardroom negotiations on the backburner and concentrate on the task at hand – upending Pakistan.

While off-field problems – and the consistent threat of a player strike – has marred the series throughout August, some quality Test cricket can reconcile all and sundry in September.

The hosts, as they proved in the first ODI, certainly have it in them to outgun opposition considerably superior in stature. With a return to the rankings all but confirmed, regardless of the outcome of this series, plenty awaits Zimbabwean's line.

Whether they can go the distance – across five full days of tough Test match cricket – is the greatest poser. The batsmen, as will be the case for Pakistan's order, must temper their penchant for hard, fast runs and, instead, retain the bigger picture.

Detrimental, though, might be the absence of Brendan Taylor and Sean Williams. The former is on paternity leave and the latter refuses to play regardless of late remuneration. But, perhaps, fatherhood and bank balances will be trumped by the great game.

The Pakistanis, eager for inflated averages against a host attack depleted by the absence of the recently-retired Kyle Jarvis and injured Graeme Cremer, will cherish the reasonably even nature of the Harare Sports Club pitch.

Captain Misbah-ul-Haq, meanwhile, has pinpointed the need to put in a polished fielding and bowling display. Teams don't climb the rankings by underrating minnow hosts, and Pakistan will want a a complete victory – and the complementary bragging rights.

The tourists pretty much named their starting XI in the pre-match press conferences, and most intriguing is their stance on opener Shan Masood. The talented opener has put in some big runs at domestic level of late – and now is as good a time as any to be tested on the biggest stage.

<b>Key Men</b><br>Coach Andy Waller was very honest in his lamentation in the wake of Jarvis' decision. The young seamer has taken a considerably strong record in Harare with him, leaving <b>Shingi Masakadza</b> with big boots to fill.

Pakistan's spinners have – and always will – take care of themselves. It's the seam ranks, however, that require nurturing. <b>Junaid Khan</b>, particularly, will enjoy the challenge posed by foreign conditions.

<b>Last Five Head-To-Head Results</b><br>2011: One-off Test: Pakistan won by seven wickets in Bulawayo<br>2002: Second Test: Pakistan won by 10 wickets in Bulawayo<br>2002: First Test: Pakistan won by 119 runs in Harare<br>1998: Third Test: Match abandoned in Faisalabad<br>1998: Second Test: Match drawn in Lahore

<b>Probable Teams</b><br><i>Zimbabwe:</i> Vusi Sibanda, Tino Mawoyo, Hamilton Masakadza, Brendan Taylor, Sikandar Raza, Regis Chakabva, Malcolm Waller, Prosper Utseya, Shingi Masakadza, Brian Vitori, Tendai Chatara.

<i>Pakistan:</i> Mohammad Hafeez, Shan Masood, Asad Ali, Younis Khan, Misbah-ul-Haq, Asad Shafiq, Adnan Akmal, Abdur Rehman, Saeed Ajmal, Junaid Khan, Wahab Riaz.

<b>Dates:</b> 3 to 7 September<br><b>Morning session:</b> 10:00-12:00 (08:00-10:00 GMT)<br><b>Afternoon session:</b> 12:40-14:40 (10:40-12:40 GMT)<br><b>Evening session:</b> 15:00-17:00 (13:00-15:00 GMT)<br><b>On-field umpires:</b> Steve Davis and Ranmore Martinesz<br><b>Third umpire:</b> Local appointment<br><b>Match referee:</b> Javagal Srinath