One-off Test preview: Zimbabwe v South Africa

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Almost every statistic is against Zimbabwe heading into their one-off Test against South Africa in Harare, and they will need a few miracles, as well as some brilliant performances, to defy the expectation of defeat.

Almost every statistic is against Zimbabwe heading into their one-off Test against South Africa in Harare, and they will need a few miracles, as well as some brilliant performances, to defy the expectation of defeat.

One wants to be positive for the Zimbos, and say some things that could indicate they might come close to even a draw, but it's nigh impossible. They've never beaten the Proteas in Test cricket, losing six of the seven games they've played.

The last time the sides faced each other in a Test was in 2005, and the teams' fortunes have gone in opposite directions since then. The Proteas have advanced to the top of the world rankings, while Zim are in disarray, on and off the field.

The hosts come into the game on the back of an ODI series defeat to Afghanistan, while South Africa have sent the Test side that beat Sri Lanka in Asia for the first time in 11 years. The Proteas have not lost a series away from home since 2006. Mismatched is an understatement.

For the hosts, a big blow has been the news that batsman Sikandar Raza has been ruled out with an injured hand, after he was the only centurion against the Afghans, and the series' top-scorer.

The hosts will have to look to the usual suspects of Hamilton Masakadza and Brendan Taylor for their runs, while a shock inclusion in the training squad was Mark Vermeulen, who has not played a Test in 10 years and has overcome massive personal problems to just keep playing.

One cannot imagine the home bowling attack to take all 20 South African wickets, but newbie Donald Tiripano was very impressive against Afghanistan in his debut series. How he will fare against Hashim Amla and AB de Villiers will be another story, though.

As mentioned, the Proteas have sent a full strength squad, though they are likely to hand a few caps out. Batsman Stiaan van Zyl and spinner Dane Piedt went to Sri Lanka but got no game time, so they stand in line for debuts here.

Fast bowler Kyle Abbott will also hope for a game, after his sterling season with Hampshire in England, while Quinton de Kock will be eager to continue his growth as a wicketkeeper when given the gloves again. Alviro Petersen, meanwhile, will be desperate for some runs, because if he can't score them here, he's not going to score them anywhere.

<b>Key Men</b><br>For the hosts, they will look to captain <b>Brendan Taylor</b> in all things. He averages 35 in Tests, decent enough considering how much of it they play, and has the best chance, aside from Hamilton, to score decent runs.

The Proteas will also have their skipper as their key man, with <b>Hashim Amla</b> starting his reign with a series win and some astonishing feats of concentration and stamina of his own. The Zim bowlers will be exhausted just thinking about facing him.

<b>Last Five Head-To-Head Results</b><br>2005, Second Test: South Africa won by an innings and 62 runs in Centurion<br>2005, First Test: South Africa won by an innings and 21 runs in Cape Town<br>2001, Second Test: Match drawn in Bulawayo<br>2001, First Test: South Africa won by nine wickets in Harare<br>1999, Second Test: South Africa won by an innings and 219 runs in Harare

<b>Squads</b><br><i>Zimbabwe:</i> Brendan Taylor, Sikandar Raza Butt, Regis Chakabva, Tendai Chatara, Elton Chigumbura, Hamilton Masakadza, Cuthbert Musoko, Richmond Mutumbami, John Nyumbu, Tinashe Panyangara, Vusimuzi Sibanda, Donald Tiripano, Mark Vermeulen, Malcolm Waller, Sean Williams.

<i>South Africa:</i> Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers, Kyle Abbott, Quinton de Kock, JP Duminy, Faf du Plessis, Dean Elgar, Imran Tahir, Morne Morkel, Wayne Parnell, Alviro Petersen, Vernon Philander, Dane Piedt, Dale Steyn, Stiaan van Zyl.

<b>Dates:</b> 9-13 August<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> Chris Gaffaney and TBC<br><b>Third umpire:</b> TBC<br><b>Match referee:</b> TBC

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