T20I series preview: New Zealand v Zimbabwe

Tatenda Taibu owes Zimbabwe a good knock, while Brendan Taylor's side have an opportunity to show some strength of character.

"We've gone up a notch every game in this series. We have been able to raise the tempo of our game and execute better and better in each game, and that was including chopping and changing of the team." – Brendon McCullum, post-third ODI.

This was world's apart from his opposite number Brendan Taylor, who stood on the podium in Napier on Thursday night and was left to stammer his way through an improvised speech. He congratulated the Black Caps, and thanked the sponsors. What he didn't say was that Zimbabwe took it down a notch with every game of the series, lowering the tempo and fielding abysmally.

Taylor shouldn't have to apologise for his team, because he's the one player who has shown some quality when just about everyone else has been incompetent. It's led him to bat with an increasingly furrowed brow, like a man who is not so much looking to stick it to the opposition as prove to his own teammates that it's not as difficult as they're making it out to be.

It's difficult to see things turning around in the two Twenty20 matches, but the least that everyone should expect is some sort of indication that Zimbabwe are trying. Even if they lose, this is a good opportunity for them to show some strength of character.

As already mentioned in a <a href='http://www.cricket365.com/tristan_holme_blogs/story/7498850/A-history-lesson-would-serve-Zimbabwe-well' class='instorylink'><b>separate blog</b></a>, this could start with their fielding. If they continue to drop between two and four straightforward chances every match they will never win, because New Zealand's batsman will punish them and the effect on morale will paralyse Zimbabwe. One man who must surely play is Keegan Meth, whose attitude has been sorely missed.

New Zealand will make late decisions on the fitness of Martin Guptill and Jacob Oram, although McCullum expects both to be available for selection.

"He [Oram] is a bit tight in the calf and Martin's a bit tight in the groin," McCullum said. "With such a brutal schedule, we're a bit cautious with them. I don't expect them to be out at all – it's a matter of looking after them.

"We're going to have to have a look and come up with something with the balance of the teams we want to play in the two games.

"I'd still like to see Martin continue. When you're in that vein of form you want to keep rolling him out there. Jake, it just depends how bad it is but I think it's okay."

Regardless of that, the Black Caps will hand debuts to Zimbabwe-born allrounder Colin de Grandhomme and left-armer Ronnie Hira at some stage, as they test out their options in the lead-up to the World Twenty20. By the end of these two matches, they'll want to have a pretty good idea of their best XI, and their favoured squad of 15, ahead of a three-match T20 series against South Africa.

Allrounder Andrew Ellis has also been added to the squad in the wake of Dean Brownlie's finger injury – Ellis played all three one-dayers against Zimbabwe, but barely had a chance to bat on account of New Zealand's dominance.

<b>Key Men<br>New Zealand:</b> He's currently in a rich vein of form, having made fifty in all four of his innings against Zimbabwe, and <b>Martin Guptill</b> is starting to look like a genuine rival to Ross Taylor in the competition to be New Zealand's best batsman of this generation. If he's fit, expect more runs.

<b>Zimbabwe:</b> Brendan Taylor will bat well – we know this. What he dearly needs though is for someone, <i>anyone</i>, to support him. <b>Tatenda Taibu</b> showed glimpses of form in the third one-dayer, and quite frankly he owes Zimbabwe some runs. As the most experienced member of the side Taibu should be expected to lead the younger players and make key contributions, but a crucial knock in the Bangladesh Test aside, it's difficult to remember when he's done that.

<b>Head-To-Head Results</b><BR>October 2011: New Zealand won by 34 runs in Harare<br>October 2011: New Zealand won by 10 wickets in Harare<br>May 2010: New Zealand won by seven runs in Guyana (WT20)

<b>Prediction</b><br><b>New Zealand</b> to win 2-0. No worries bro.

<a href='http://www.skybet.com/betting/cricket/c30.html' target='_blank' class='instorylink'><B>Online betting</B></a> firm <a href='http://www.skybet.com/betting/cricket/c30.html' target='_blank' class='instorylink'><B>Sky Bet</B></a> have New Zealand at 1/7 to win the series and Zimbabwe at 9/2. Visit Sky Bet for the latest <a href='http://www.skybet.com/betting/cricket/c30.html' target='_blank' class='instorylink'><B>cricket betting</B></a>.

<b>Squads<br>New Zealand:</b> Brendon McCullum (capt), Michael Bates, Doug Bracewell, Andrew Ellis, Colin de Grandhomme, James Franklin, Martin Guptill, Ronnie Hira, Nathan McCullum, Kyle Mills, Rob Nicol, Jacob Oram, Tim Southee, Kane Williamson.

<b>Zimbabwe:</b> Brendan Taylor (capt), Regis Chakabva, Elton Chigumbura, Kyle Jarvis, Hamilton Masakadza, Shingirai Masakadza, Stuart Matsikenyeri, Tinotenda Mawoyo, Keegan Meth, Forster Mutizwa, Raymond Price, Tatenda Taibu, Prosper Utseya, Brian Vitori, Malcolm Waller.

<b>Fixtures</b><br>First T20I: Auckland, 11 February<br>Second T20I: Hamilton, 14 February

<b>Tristan Holme</b>