ODI series preview: Zimbabwe vs NZ

If Zimbabwe's series against Bangladesh and Pakistan were a test of skill and enthusiasm, then their one-day series against New Zealand is likely to be a test of character.

If Zimbabwe's series against Bangladesh and Pakistan were a test of skill and enthusiasm, then their one-day series against New Zealand is likely to be a test of character.

Certainly the comeback kids have not been found wanting in the enthusiasm department over the last few months as they enjoy their gradual return to Test cricket, but if their lack of skills continues to be shown up by superior opponents then it will take huge character not to lose that enthusiasm.

Victory over Bangladesh and defeat to Pakistan confirmed what had already been suspected – that they have quickly caught up with the Tigers now that they have a decent coaching setup, but remain some way from competing with the rest on a regular basis.

All of the players have made noticeable improvement since Alan Butcher took charge 18 months ago and was joined in the coaching department by some savvy former players. Unfortunately they have a huge amount of time to make up for after five years of stagnation, and that is what was apparent when Pakistan toured last month.

The encouraging news is that the selectors are standing by the pool of players who have taken part in the recent internationals rather than chopping and changing, thus avoiding an air of instability which would further debilitate a struggling side who are trying to find their place in world cricket.

It won't be any easier against New Zealand, who may not boast Pakistan's talent base but do possess a more consistent nature, meaning there will be fewer opportunities for Zimbabwe to sow seeds of doubt.

The Black Caps showed few signs of rustiness in a 2-0 series sweep in the Twenty20 matches, and will be eager to progress from that as they head towards a tough series against Australia. After a six-month break that followed a relatively successful World Cup, they're enjoying a fresh start under Ross Taylor.

If there is reason for concern in New Zealand cricket, it is the fact that they have only one new young player in their squad, which suggests there aren't many youngsters of value coming through the system. Doug Bracewell, 21, made his debut during the T20s, but then so did Graeme Aldridge, who is almost 34.

Nevertheless, inexperienced players such as Bracewell, Aldridge, Rob Nicol and Luke Woodcock can expect some game time over the course of the series and have an opportunity to secure selection in the longer term. It's fair to say that less than half the squad hold down a regular place in the New Zealand side, so there are certainly spots up for grabs going forward.

Zimbabwe perhaps have a few more regular starters, but players such as Forster Mutizwa, Malcolm Waller and Keegan Meth, who have found themselves in and out of the one-day side, will be desperate to make the step up when their chance comes along again.

<B>Key Men</b><br><i>Zimbabwe:</i> If the hosts are going to win a game then they'll need one of their batsmen to come really good. <b>Brendan Taylor</b> looks as if he could be finding some form, and is better than any of his teammates at pacing an innings. It's time he found some consistency after an up-and-down sort of winter.

<i>New Zealand:</i> With Daniel Vettori taking a break from the shorter formats, the onus falls on <b>Nathan McCullum</b> now that he'll front the spin department. The pitches in Zimbabwe are likely to suit him, but require a bit of guile when it comes to deciding when to attack and when to defend.

<b>Last Five Head-To-Head Results</b><BR>World Cup: March 2011: New Zealand won by 10 wickets in Ahmedabad<BR>Tri-series: August 2005: New Zealand won by 27 runs in Harare<BR>Tri-series: August 2005: New Zealand won by 192 runs in Bulawayo<BR>World Cup: March 2003: New Zealand won by six wickets in Bloemfontein<BR>Third ODI: January 2001: Zimbabwe won by one wicket in Auckland

<b>Prediction</b><br>Looking at it realistically, it's difficult to see Zimbabwe winning a game in the series.

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 overall series victory. Visit Sky Bet for the latest cricket betting.

<b>Squads</b><br><i>Zimbabwe:</i> Brendan Taylor (capt), Chamunorwa Chibhabha, Elton Chigumbura, Kyle Jarvis, Hamilton Masakadza, Keegan Meth, Natsai Mushangwe, Christopher Mpofu, Forster Mutizwa, Raymond Price, Vusimuzi Sibanda, Tatenda Taibu (wk), Prosper Utseya, Malcolm Waller.

<i>New Zealand:</i> Ross Taylor (capt), Graeme Aldridge, Doug Bracewell, James Franklin, Martin Guptill, Brendon McCullum (wk), Nathan McCullum, Andy McKay, Kyle Mills, Rob Nicol, Jacob Oram, Jesse Ryder, BJ Watling, Kane Williamson, Luke Woodcock.

<b>Fixtures</b><br>First ODI: 20 October, Harare<BR>Second ODI: 22 October, Harare<BR>Third ODI: 25 October, Bulawayo

<b>Tristan Holme</b>