ODI series preview: NZ v Zimbabwe

The extent of the damage done by heavy defeat in the one-off Test will be determined by Zimbabwe's response to it, making this ODI series all the more important as they head into a six-month break from international cricket.

For Zimbabwe, defeat by an innings and 301 runs in the Test against New Zealand was nothing short of a disaster, undoing a year's worth of hard work to shed their inferiority complex. But the extent of the damage will be determined by their response to it, making this one-day series all the more important as they head into a six-month break from international cricket.

Fortunately for the tourists, some of their opponents may be equally unsure of themselves as the Black Caps give opportunities to a handful of uncapped players. While New Zealand's focus is not entirely on the next World Cup (injury-prone 33-year-old Jacob Oram would not be involved if they were), they are trying to widen their pool of players by including the likes of Michael Bates, Andrew Ellis, Tarun Nethula and Tom Latham.

Although Bates and Nethula have since been released from the squad for the first match as the selectors trimmed it to 12, Ellis and Latham will surely get some game time while Dean Brownlie will also make his one-day debut after impressing in his first four Tests.

While Rob Nicol, who scored a century in Zimbabwe in October, will open the batting, Zimbabwe might be surprised by the omission of Andy McKay – the most successful one-day bowler during New Zealand's tour. But with Tim Southee fit and firing, and Kyle Mills and Doug Bracewell in good form, McKay has been deemed surplus to requirements.

The hosts are not likely to play dull cricket. Brendon McCullum showed that his attacking instincts with the bat generally flow into his captaincy when he filled in for Ross Taylor on day three of the Test match, and he will continue the job as Taylor recovers from a calf injury.

New Zealand will know what Zimbabwe are capable of after a record run chase back in October saw Brendan Taylor's side add some respectability to the 2-1 series scoreline, but the hosts will also have one eye on South Africa. The Proteas arrive next weekend with a grudge to pick after <i>that</i> World Cup quarter-final, and the Black caps will hope to find the right combination for the task.

Zimbabwe will be grateful to welcome some experience back into their line-up in a format with which they are far more familiar. Elton Chigumbura should return, while Ray Price and Keegan Meth could be fit again. Prosper Utseya offers another spin option, while Kyle Jarvis and Brian Vitori have no reason not to hit their straps now that they have plenty of overs under their belt in New Zealand conditions.

Vusi Sibanda's absence will continue to be felt at the top of the order, and it remains to be seen whether Brendan Taylor shifts back up the order to open alongside Hamilton Masakadza – something he did successfully for a couple of seasons – or remains at number three.

The last time he met New Zealand in a one-day series, he became the first batsman ever to score more than 300 runs in a three-match series. Yet again, his side need him to come to the party in a big way.

<b>Key Men<br><I>Zimbabwe:</i> None other than <B>Brendan Taylor</B>. Again. So much rides on his ability with the bat, particularly in the midst of Sibanda's absence.

<i>New Zealand:</i> While Zimbabwe are freed from the menace brought by Chris Martin for the time being, <B>Tim Southee</B> is likely to prove a handful for the visiting batsmen again.

<b>Last Three Head-To-Head Results</b><br>2011: Third ODI: Zimbabwe won by one wicket in Bulawayo<BR>2011: Second ODI: New Zealand won by four wickets in Harare<BR>2011: First ODI: New Zealand won by nine wickets in Harare

<b>Prediction</b><br>Zimbabwe might slip in a solitary win as New Zealand's newbies find their feet, but series triumph will ultimately be the hosts' for the taking.

Online betting firm <a href='http://www.skybet.com/betting/cricket/c30.html' target='_blank' class='instorylink'><B>Sky Bet</B></a> has New Zealand at 1/8 in the <a href='http://www.skybet.com/betting/cricket/c30.html' target='_blank' class='instorylink'><B>betting</B></a> for the first ODI. Visit Sky Bet for the latest cricket betting.

<b>Squads<br><I>Zimbabwe:</i> Brendan Taylor (captain), Regis Chakabva, Elton Chigumbura, Graeme Cremer, Kyle Jarvis, Hamilton Masakadza, Shingi Masakadza, Stuart Matsikenyeri, Tino Mawoyo, Keegan Meth, Forster Mutizwa, Ray Price, Tatenda Taibu, Prosper Utseya, Brian Vitori, Malcolm Waller.

<i>New Zealand:</i> Brendon McCullum (captain), Michael Bates, Doug Bracewell, Dean Brownlie, Andrew Ellis, Martin Guptill, Tom Latham, Nathan McCullum, Kyle Mills, Tarun Nethula, Rob Nicol, Jacob Oram, Tim Southee, Kane Williamson.

<b>Fixtures</b><br>First ODI: Dunedin, 3 February<br>Second ODI: Whangarei, 6 February<BR>Third ODI: Napier, 9 February