Test preview: Zimbabwe Vs Bangladesh

With everything taken into account, this should be a close match, if not one of high quality. With a sporting wicket thrown into the equation, entertainment is unlikely to be lacking, writes Tristan Holme.

Five months ago, as they sat around a poolside at a Kandy hotel following defeat to Pakistan at the World Cup, talk in the Zimbabwe camp turned to Test cricket. Their exit from the tournament had just been confirmed, and with only an inconsequential match against Kenya left it was natural that thoughts would turn to Zimbabwe's impending return to Test cricket after a six-year absence.

Alistair Campbell, as he does in most areas of cricket in Zimbabwe, led the debate, with players and fellow coaches chipping in as a gameplan was mapped out. Its basis was that, despite having relied heavily on spin bowlers in one-day cricket, Zimbabwe should go back to their more traditional strength of fast bowling on green wickets. Five months on, that plan is being put into effect.

It would be fair of Bangladesh to accuse Zimbabwe of somewhat underhand tactics in the build-up to the Test, given the manner in which the hosts ensured that minimum benefit could be taken from the tour match. A dodgy wicket was prepared in the hope that the tourists would struggle, with Zimbabwe's brains trust feeling that Bangladesh do not have much stomach for adversity. It wasn't so much the seam available but the uneven bounce which meant that little could be gained from the exercise, which rather goes against the idea that tour matches are there for the visiting side to acclimatise and get a bit of good cricket under their belts.

A look at the pitch on Wednesday afternoon revealed plenty of grass, so while the Harare Sports Club pitch will be more even than the one at Country Club over the weekend, Zimbabwe have clearly decided that pace and bounce are their best hope. If they win the toss on the first morning they'll have every chance of beating Bangladesh, who lest we forget have not played a Test themselves in 14 months and are not the most harmonious unit off the pitch.

They have a late call to make over Mohammad Mahmudullah, who sustained a hand injury whilst fielding in the tour match but took part in training on Wednesday and is expected to play. With the Harare Sports Club groundsman producing a pitch that won't allow the spinners to influence the game, Shakib Al Hasan will be the tourists' only tweaker, while Mohammad Ashraful's experience will likely see him take the number five berth.

Zimbabwe, meanwhile, had an XI in mind before the tour match victory, with just one decision left over. Kyle Jarvis and Keegan Meth were put in a bowl-off of sorts at Country Club, but both emerged with four wickets. Jarvis seems likely to take the place due to his extra pace, which hurried the Bangladeshi batsmen when he dug it in short. Chris Mpofu and Brian Vitori were kept out of that match having already sealed their spots in the side, with left-armer Vitori being kept as something of a secret weapon – he was even told not to bowl in the nets at the academy because Zimbabwe didn't want the touring side to get a look at a bowler who has been prolific in domestic cricket but will only now make his international debut.

Tino Mawoyo is another rising star who will get his chance, with the right-hander set to open the batting alongside old hand Vusi Sibanda as Hamilton Masakadza and Brendan Taylor shift down the order. Tatenda Taibu is likely to bat at five, with Campbell insisting on Tuesday night that he wouldn't drop his best wicketkeeper-batsman after his comments on the Zimbabwe Cricket administration. The pair had a heated debate on the Sports Club outfield on Wednesday afternoon in full view of the other players after Campbell had promised the previous evening that he would "have it out" with him. Scratch beneath the surface and clearly not everything is as it should be, so expect that one to roll on over the course of the tour.

Craig Ervine seems the likeliest number six but has been in terrible form of late, leaving the door open for Regis Chakabva, who impressed on the third morning of the tour match when he saw off a tough period with the new ball. Ervine's promise and experience will probably take it though, while Ray Price looks set to profit from the conditions and claim a spot ahead of Prosper Utseya as Zimbabwe look for a holding spinner rather than a more attacking one.

With everything taken into account, this should be a close match, if not one of high quality. With a sporting wicket thrown into the equation, entertainment is unlikely to be lacking.

<b>Key Men</b><br><i>Zimbabwe:</i> He's undoubtedly Zimbabwe's best batsman, and having shuffled down to number four <b>Brendan Taylor</b> is well placed. If the top three can see off the new ball then Zimbabwe's new captain has the game to take his side to a big total.

<i>Bangladesh:</i> He was the one batsman who had the guts to stand up to some hostile bowling on a tricky pitch in the tour match, and Bangladesh could well be relying on <b>Mushfiqur Rahim</b> again if the top order struggles as they did over the weekend.

<b>Last Five Head-To-Head Results</b><BR>January 2005, Second Test: Match drawn in Dhaka<br>January 2005, First Test: Bangladesh won by 226 runs in Chittagong<br>February 2004, Second Test: Match drawn in Bulawayo<br>February 2004, First Test: Zimbabwe won by 183 runs in Harare<br>November 2001, Second Test: Zimbabwe won by eight wickets in Chittagong

<b>Prediction</b><BR>The conditions favour the hosts, and if they win the toss then the tourists will be up against it. But overall <b>Bangladesh</b> have more experience and look better drilled than the hosts, so with a draw looking highly unlikely Shakib's men seem a good bet.

Online betting firm <a href='http://www.skybet.com/betting/cricket/c30.html' target='_blank' class='instorylink'><B>Sky Bet</B></a>, has Zimbabwe at 9/4 <a href='http://www.skybet.com/betting/cricket/c30.html' target='_blank' class='instorylink'><B>odds</B></a> for the win in the betting to win the one-off Test with the Tigers.

<b>Probable Teams</b><br><i>Zimbabwe:</i> Tino Mawoyo, Vusi Sibanda, Hamilton Masakadza, Brendan Taylor (capt), Tatenda Taibu (wk), Craig Ervine, Elton Chigumbura, Kyle Jarvis, Ray Price, Chris Mpofu, Brian Vitori.

<i>Bangladesh:</i> Tamim Iqbal, Imrul Kayes, Junaid Siddique, Shahriar Nafees, Mohammad Ashraful, Shakib Al Hasan (capt), Mushfiqur Rahim (wk), Mahmudullah, Shafiul Islam, Rubel Hossain, Robiul Islam.

<b>Dates:</b> 4 – 8 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> Bruce Oxenford and Kumar Dharmasena<br><b>Third umpire:</b> Local appointment<br><b>Match referee:</b> Roshan Mahanama

<b>Tristan Holme in Harare</b>