News of injuries to key players in both the Zimbabwe and New Zealand camps has dominated the headlines in recent days, but both teams will have to put that behind them when they take to the field on the opening day of their one-off cricket Test match at Queens Sports Club starting on Tuesday.
Zimbabwe go into the match missing the services of experienced wicketkeeper — batsman Tatenda Taibu, who joins left-arm seamer Brian Vitori on the injury list.
All-rounder Elton Chigumbura had been nursing a knee injury, but was yesterday declared fit and is expected to retain his place in the team, which will be named this morning.
The absence on Taibu looks set open the door for wicketkeeper/ batsman Forster
Mtizwa for what will be his Test debut while either Njabulo Ncube or Keegan Meth could make their Test debuts in place of Vitori.
Ncube will, however, have an edge after he impressed on his one-day debut, and is likely to join Kyle Jarvis and Chris Mpofu in the attack on his home ground.
Natsai Mushangwe could also have a chance of making the team, depending on whether the selectors fancy a second spinner or a third seamer, but his inexperience may count against him.
Zimbabwe’s bowling department will have to come good if they are to have any chance of coming out of this match with a positive result, something the hosts’ skipper Brendan Taylor believes they can achieve.
“New Zealand are a quality side, but we feel we have a bowling attack that can make inroads into their line-up,” said Taylor.
“Daniel Vettori’s arrival is a big boost for them, but we’ll look to bat long and if we can take the game deep into day five then anything can happen.”
The veteran Black Caps left-arm spinner Vettori skipped the limited-overs matches after announcing that he would take a break from the shorter forms of the game.
His guile and variations could pose some problems for the home team whose frailty against quality spin bowling is well documented, but they will no doubt look to cash in on the tourists’ inexperienced pace attack where seasoned pacer Chris Martin is the only major threat.
For Zimbabwe a lot will rest on the shoulders of their skipper Taylor, who has been in fantastic form against the Kiwis, scoring two tons and a dominant 75 in the three-match ODI series.
The home fans will hope he continues to produce the same form in the Test match.
The other senior batsmen in the team Vusi Sibanda and Hamilton Masakadza will have to put their hand up in the absence of Taibu and make sure they put price on their wickets.
The young opening pair of Tino Mawoyo, who scored an unbeaten century against Pakistan, and Sibanda will be keen to provide a solid start for the middle order to score big.
The hosts could also hand a Test debut to Malcolm Waller, who was picked in the 15-man squad.
Waller scored 99 not out in the third ODI which allowed Zimbabwe to complete their highest ever run chase, as they achieved a target of 329 in a dramatic finale.
New Zealand, who will be playing their first Test since January, will be without batsman Jesse Ryder, who suffered a calf strain after sending down just three deliveries in the drawn warm-up match against Zimbabwe A.
Fast bowler Kyle Mills has already returned home after a scan picked up a slight tear to his abductor muscle following New Zealand’s victory in the first ODI in Harare.
Zimbabwe have beaten Bangladesh and lost to Pakistan since returning to Test cricket in August following an absence of more than five years from five-day cricket, and will be hoping to end their home season on a high.
Zimbabwe (probable): 1 Tino Mawoyo, 2 Vusi Sibanda, 3 Hamilton Masakadza, 4 Brendan Taylor (capt), 5 Forster Mutizwa (wk), 6 Elton Chigumbura, 7 Malcolm Waller, 8 Njabulo Ncube/Keegan Meth, 9 Ray Price, 10 Kyle Jarvis, 11 Chris Mpofu
New Zealand: Martin Guptill, Brendon McCullum, Kane Williamson, Ross Taylor (captain), BJ Watling, Reece Young (wicketkeeper), Daniel Vettori, Doug Bracewell, Jeetan Patel, Andy McKay, Chris Martin.