National cricket team leaves for New Zealand

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Zimbabwe’s cricket team will jet out of the country around lunchtime today for their maiden tour outside the country since their readmission to Test cricket in August last year.

The team will commence the tour with a warm-up match at the Harry Barker Reserve Cricket Ground in Te Hapara, Gisborne, starting on Saturday before the Test match set for January 26, at McLean Park in Napier.

The teams will then square off in limited overs competitions starting with the three-match ODIs and two T-20s from February 3-14.

Team manager Lovemore Banda told NewsDay Sport yesterday that the national the team was expected to touch down at Auckland International Airport at 1435 hours tomorrow and would travel via Johannesburg in South Africa and Dubai in the United Arab Emirates.

“The team will fly out (today) after which they will connect to Auckland via Johannesburg and Dubai. We are expected to land in Auckland at 1435 on Tuesday (tomorrow), said Banda.

While in New Zealand the team is expected to link up with skipper Brendan Taylor who is currently playing in New Zealand’s HRV Cup for the Wellington Firebirds.

The tour will be a litmus test for Taylor, who will lead Zimbabwe for the first time away from home since taking over the captaincy after the World Cup last year.

“My focus was on getting my game right for Wellington.

“Unfortunately we haven’t progressed further in the tournament,” Taylor said in an interview with New Zealand Herald yesterday.

“Next I will be focusing on Zimbabwe. Despite being fairly new to the captaincy, it’s a responsibility I’m enjoying; it’s a test of character.

“Times have been tough over the last couple of years, but we’ve largely stuck together — the team hasn’t changed much. We’re just grateful to play with Test status again.”

The team’s preparations have been overshadowed by controversy surrounding the omission of opener Vusi Sibanda from the team over his decision to snub a Zimbabwe Cricket contract to play grade cricket in Australia.

Coach Alan Butcher has already hinted experienced top-order batsman Hamilton Masakadza will be promoted up the order to fill in the void left by Sibanda.

Meanwhile, injured Black Caps star Jesse Ryder is resigned to being on the sidelines for the upcoming series against Zimbabwe.

The 27-year-old’s career has been punctuated by a series of injuries and he is out of action with a slight tear to his left calf, suffered early in the HRV Cup while playing for Wellington.

He had been hopeful of playing Zimbabwe in the first Test on January 26.

But after meeting with Black Caps coach John Wright, team manager Mike Sandle and trainer Chris Donaldson this past week, it was mutually agreed Ryder should sit out that series and regain full fitness to play the touring South Africans.

“All the preparation and rehab is going really well at the moment,” Ryder told the Sunday Star-Times yesterday.

“I felt like I wouldn’t have been ready for that Zimbabwe series.

“I want to make sure I get all my rehab done and work on this five-week programme that I’ve been given by Chris Donaldson and New Zealand physiotherapist Paul Close.”