UNTIMELY injuries to key playing personnel and the withdrawal of inform players due to franchise commitments abroad, have left Zimbabwe facing an uphill task ahead of the two-match Test series against West Indies which gets underway at Queens Sports Club on Saturday.
Zimbabwe Cricket selectors were on Tuesday evening forced to announce a depleted squad which features five uncapped players ahead of the five-day matches against the Caribbean side, which is fielding a full-strength squad.
The hosts will be led by the limited overs captain Craig Ervine, who is filling in for the injured Sean Williams.
While Williams was ruled out due to a broken finger, Ervine himself had been a major doubt for the series due to a finger injury but is now expected to be fit ahead of the first Test on Saturday.
The Chevrons will also head into the series without their inform all-rounders Sikandar Raza and Ryan Burl who are unavailable due to franchise commitments abroad while experienced pacers Tendai Chatara and Blessing Muzarabani also miss out due to injury.
Due to the high number of absentees, the selectors have included the uncapped quintet of wicketkeeper batsman Tafadzwa Tsiga, seamer Bradley Evans and batsmen Joylord Gumbie, Kudzai Maunze and Tanunurwa Makoni, who are all in line for a Test debut should they win selection in the final XI.
Such a high number of players who are untested at international level, let alone, the game’s pinnacle format of Test cricket against an unpredictable Windies side is certainly going to provide ultimate challenge to Zimbabwe’s depth.
The Chevrons, who will be playing their first Test under head coach Dave Houghton, will, however benefit from the inclusion of experienced former England batter Gary Balance, who is in line to play his first Test for his country of birth after he was named in the squad.
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Ballance made 23 Test appearances for England last decade, but recently switched allegiance to Zimbabwe and has already featured three times for the Chevrons in white-ball matches against Ireland last month.
The 33-year-old looks likely to get the chance to make his second international bow in red ball cricket which would be his first Test since July 2017, when he contributed scores of 27 and four for England during the second Test against South Africa in Nottingham.
Zimbabwe squad: Gary Ballance, Chamunorwa Chibhabha, Tanaka Chivanga, Craig Ervine (c), Bradley Evans, Joylord Gumbie, Innocent Kaia, Tanunurwa Makoni, Wellington Masakadza, Kudzai Maunze, Brandon Mavuta, Richard Ngarava, Victor Nyauchi, Milton Shumba, Donald Tiripano, Tafadzwa Tsiga.