Test preview: Zimbabwe Vs New Zealand

New Zealand

Zimbabwe are not yet at the level they managed prior to cricket's disintegration in the country, but they are improving and gaining experience and will have the opportunity to surprise a few people against the Black Caps.

Prior to Zimbabwe's first Test in more than five years, Alistair Campbell said that they should be judged on their performances over the course of the home season. In retrospect Zimbabwe would rather have taken their Test and ODI wins over Bangladesh and left it at that, given they lost 12 internationals on the trot before Malcolm Waller's heroics last Tuesday.

Nevertheless we can probably conclude that Zimbabwe are not yet at the level they managed prior to cricket's disintegration in the country, but they are improving and gaining experience and will have the opportunity to surprise a few people in this Test. Zimbabwe have never won a Test against New Zealand in 13 attempts, so a draw would do just fine really.

New Zealand will know that they let their standards slip in the third ODI, and will be keen to make the most of this opportunity to build towards a two-Test series in Australia in December. They have a few new faces in the squad, but will likely only hand out one debut.

Exactly who that goes to will be interesting to see, because the only possible all-rounder in the squad is Daniel Vettori, whose batting achievements last season have elevated him to that status. The question then is whether to move wicketkeeper Reece Young up to number six and Vettori to seven to make space for four other bowlers, or go in a bowler light so that Dean Brownlie can debut as a proper number six. On a flat pitch the former option might be the better one.

Andy McKay bowled a long spell in the nets on Monday without any problems and has presumably overcome a stomach bug. The left-arm seamer has some serious gas and troubled Zimbabwe's batsmen in the one-day series, so will surely play his second Test. Chris Martin is the other certain starter among the bowlers, but it remains to be seen whether the Black Caps go in with two spinners or opt for the extra seamer.

Zimbabwe's selection chaos for this Test is probably best summed up by the story of Regis Chakabva, who boarded a bus for Harare on Sunday but had to disembark at Kwekwe – halfway between Bulawayo and the capital city – to hop on a bus going in the opposite direction. Injuries to Tatenda Taibu and Elton Chigumbura haven't helped, but a clear-headed panel shouldn't have to wait until the day before a Test to select 15 players.

Even then they seem to have blundered, with Taibu left out of the official squad despite batting in the nets without any problems on Monday. Asked to clarify the situation, coach Alan Butcher said that "someone had jumped the gun" and that Taibu would likely play as a specialist batsman. Such muddling can be infectious and unsettling though, so Zimbabwe are hardly going into the Test in the best frame of mind.

One man who is set to make his debut and won't be worrying about the confusion is Njabulo Ncube. The fast bowler impressed on his one-day debut, and is likely to join Chris Mpofu in the attack on his home ground. The final bowling spot is likely to be a shootout between Kyle Jarvis and Natsai Mushangwe, depending on whether the selectors fancy a second spinner or a third seamer. Mushangwe has impressive control for such a green leg-spinner, but his inexperience will surely count against him.

With Taibu and Chigumbura reporting fit for duty, it may leave no space for Waller in spite of his excellent form. He has over 200 runs against New Zealand from two ODIs and the tour match, and also knows their bowlers from playing against a New Zealand A side that toured Zimbabwe last year.

However, he was the last man to get a hit in the nets – after everyone but a few net bowlers and Grant Flower had left – giving the impression that the hosts will persist with the out-of-form Hamilton Masakadza and accommodate Taibu as a specialist batsman. Waller's time will surely come, and in the meantime Forster Mutizwa is likely to make his Test debut as a wicketkeer-batsman.

<b>Key Men</b><br><i>Zimbabwe:</i> He became the first batsman to score more than 300 runs in a three-match ODI series, and Zimbabwe will need <b>Brendan Taylor</b> to take that form into the Test – particularly as no-one else in the top four is in great shape. Tino Mawoyo is short on time in the middle, while Vusi Sibanda and Hamilton Masakadza struggled in the ODIs, meaning Taylor's influence will be crucial.

<i>New Zealand:</i> The Queens pitch is unlikely to offer a great deal of assistance to any of the bowlers off the deck, which makes <b>Daniel Vettori</b>'s guile through the air one of the best weapons on either side. Expect Andy McKay to hurry the Zimbabwe batsmen, but New Zealand will probably need Vettori to break those long partnerships when the quicks have been seen off.

<b>Last Five Head-To-Head Results</b><BR>August 2005, Second Test: New Zealand won by an innings and 46 runs<br>August 2005, First Test: New Zealand won by an innings and 294 runs<br>December 2000, Only Test: Match drawn in Wellington<br>September 2000, Second Test: New Zealand won by eight wickets in Harare<br>September 2000, First Test: New Zealand won by seven wickets in Bulawayo

<b>Prediction</b><BR>The flat pitch will make things difficult for them, but <b>New Zealand</b> have the bowlers to force a result by late on day four or early on day five.

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 8/1 in the <a href='http://www.skybet.com/betting/cricket/c30.html' target='_blank' class='instorylink'><B>betting</B></a> for victory in the one-off Test. Visit Sky Bet for the latest cricket betting.

<b>Probable Teams</b><br><i>Zimbabwe:</i> Tino Mawoyo, Vusi Sibanda, Hamilton Masakadza, Brendan Taylor (captain), Tatenda Taibu, Forster Mutizwa (wicketkeeper), Elton Chigumbura, Kyle Jarvis, Ray Price, Chris Mpofu, Njabulo Ncube.

<i>New Zealand:</i> Martin Guptill, Brendon McCullum, Kane Williamson, Ross Taylor (captain), BJ Watling, Reece Young (wicketkeeper), Daniel Vettori, Doug Bracewell, Jeetan Patel, Andy McKay, Chris Martin.

<b>Dates:</b> 1 – 5 November<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)

<b>On-field umpires:</b> Bruce Oxenford and Marais Erasmus<br><b>Third umpire:</b> Local appointment<br><b>Match referee:</b> Chris Broad

<b>Tristan Holme in Bulawayo</b>