ZIMBABWE play the first one-day international match of their tour to the Caribbean at Antigua tomorrow hoping to upstage the unsettled West Indies, w
ho until Wednesday had no player to field as a long-running contract dispute raged on.
The West Indies players had for the last 18 months been locked in the contract row with the West Indies Cricket Board and had been given shifted deadlines to sign new deals or be dropped from the team. This would have meant fringe players facing Zimbabwe in the seven-match ODI series.
The players and the board only resolved their dispute on Wednesday in time for the series which begins with a double-header in the island of Antigua tomorrow and on Sunday.
A makeshift West Indies side would have given the Zimbabweans a glimmer of hope for victory as Kevin Curran’s boys are desperate for results to prove their readiness to resume Test cricket next year.
But mindful of their 2-2 home draw with Kenya in March, the young Zimbabwean team would not have stood a chance against a weakened West Indies either.
After they were held by Kenya, Bangladesh, ranked lower than Zimbabwe in the ODI ratings, showed no respect for the Kenyans and whacked them 4-0.
Now they will face a full-strength West Indies side that will also be desperate for results. With legendary batsman Brian Lara back as captain for a third time in his career this week, the Zimbabwe has all to worry about.
Now 37, Lara is one of the true greats of the game, though in the past Zimbabwean bowlers have prevented him from settling into his rhythm.
When the Windies toured Zimbabwe in 2002, Lara was removed four times by Zimbabwe’s pace bowlers. In the second innings of the second Test in Bulawayo, Heath Streak, then the Zimbabwe captain, rearranged Lara’s furniture with an in-swinging yorker.
In the second ODI in Bulwayo, Andy Blignaut trapped him leg before looking for a late yorker. And Streak was not finished with the man they call the Prince. In the third one-dayer in Harare, he uprooted Lara’s middle stump with another perfect yorker. Then in the penultimate ODI in Harare, Sean Ervine took Lara’s leg stump, again from a yorker.
But Zimbabwe’s current attack is thin, and the tourists should expect some retribution from Lara in his own backyard. Opening bowler Edward Rainsford is the closest quality bowler the current Zimbabwe team has in comparison to Streak, Blignaut and Ervine.
His new ball partner Blessing Mahwire did not bowl particularly well against Kenya and it was a bit surprising that he is touring ahead of the promising Waddington Mwayenga.
If the likes Mahwire, Tawanda Mupariwa and Anthony Ireland do not provide the much-needed back up, Zimbabwe will have to find an ace from somewhere.
Most of the West Indies batsmen do play spin adeptly and Prosper Utseya and Ryan Higgins will look for some breakthroughs.
Zimbabwe won both their warm-up matches against Antigua & Barbuda, the last one by 51 runs, with opening batsman Piet Rinke scoring 104 runs.