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Zimbabwe gear up for return to Tests

By Enock Muchinjo

THE Zimbabwe cricket team are currently in India en route to Bangladesh where they will resume Test commitments in January. These promise to be the most competitive to date between Test cri

cket’s two bottom sides.

As Zimbabwe were arriving in India, England, who were here recently, were crashing to a demoralising seven-wicket defeat to South Africa “A” in a three-day warm-up match in Potchefstroom, giving an early sign of what is likely to come out of their series with the Proteas.

South Africa are evenly balanced in all departments, and any team that can afford, by choice, to leave out world-class players like Mark Boucher and Lance Klusener for a tour to the fortress of India deserves a lot of respect.

Younger and eager players like 23-year-old captain Graeme Smith and in-form all-rounder Zander de Bruyn have already carved their niche in international cricket, while the old guard of the team is also still going strong and capable of inspiring the side to a home series victory. The South Africa-England series is a festive season treat for cricket fans throughout the world.

Elsewhere, India’s legendary batsman Sachin Tendulkar this week reached a historic milestone in his country’s first Test away in Bangladesh when he equalled the record of 34 Test centuries held by fellow Indian great Sunil Gavaskar. It is easy to overlook Tendulkar’s achievement. The little Indian master is a true genius when he is at the crease and is simply in a class of his own. You expect records to tumble naturally for Tendulkar, especially batting with a shrewd and carefree attitude as he did on his way to score 248 in Dhaka. It will take someone very special for the world to see another cricketer and sportsman as awesome as Tendulkar.

After the Indians complete their Bangladesh tour, it will be time for the youthful Zimbabwe team to face the Bangladeshis. Experience favours Bangladesh, with their side consisting of players who have been around since the country’s inception into Test cricket in 2001. Men like captain Habibul Bashar and record-breaking batsman Mohammed Ashraful are just some of the dangerous players in the team.

A look at the Zimbabwe side shows inexperience. Five out of the 16 players touring have not played Test cricket as yet and, if selected, will be making their maiden appearance in Bangladesh. Five uncapped players on a Test tour is a challenge.

Batsman Dion Ebrahim is the most experienced player in the Zimbabwe side, having played 22 Tests and averaging 26,17. He has scored a total of 1 047 runs. Interestingly, pace bowler Tinashe Panyangara has the team’s best batting average of 50,50 but he has only played two matches.

Captain Tatenda Taibu tours as the second most experienced Test player, with 16 matches under his belt. He has made 666 runs and has an average of 22,96. With his vice-captain Ebrahim, Taibu will be the mainstay of the Zimbabwe batting and the touring side’s success will depend on the duo’s form.

Other batsmen like Hamilton Masakadza, Stuart Matsikenyeri, Barney Rogers and Mark Vermeulen will be required to provide support and make sure that Zimbabwe bat well throughout the order.

Masakadza has the team’s second best average of 35,77 after five matches and will be itching to resurrect a Test career which started with a bang as he became, against the West Indies in 2001, the youngest player then to score a Test century on debut. He followed that with 203 runs in four matches before suspending cricket for university studies in South Africa.

Matsikenyeri has only played four Tests and not much of his longer version ability has shown, while Rogers is uncapped at Test level. Both youngsters have a chance to prove their mettle on the sub-continent.

Vermeulen knows that better than anyone else. His performance will fall under close scrutiny in Bangladesh after his poor show in the recent ODI series against England, and he will have to approach the matches with aplomb in order to pay back the selectors’ faith in him.

In the bowling department, paceman Douglas Hondo has taken 12 Test wickets. He is the leading bowler in an attack that will try to make its presence felt in Test cricket. The remaining Zimbabwe bowlers have shared 17 Test wickets among themselves in the matches they have played.

Bangladesh will have a good look at this inexperienced bowling attack and then decide to have a go at it. Zimbabwe will need to respond with great character.

The spin bowlers will play an important role in Bangladesh. Many can turn the ball on some of those sub-continent pitches, and with the inclusion of Prince Edward schoolboy, leg-spinner Graeme Cremer who is a natural and consistent turner of the ball, the bowling should once again emerge as the team’s best performing department. There are quite a few other spinners in the Zimbabwe side such as Prosper Utseya, Matsikenyeri, Masakadza, Rogers and Brendan Taylor.

Zimbabwe squad to Bangladesh:

Tatenda Taibu (captain), Dion Ebrahim, Vusumuzi Sibanda, Hamilton Masakadza, Stuart Matsikenyeri, Mluleki Nkala, Brendan Taylor, Barney Rogers, Elton Chigumbura, Tinashe Panyangara, Douglas Hondo, Prosper Utseya, Chris Mpofu, Edward Rainsford, Graeme Cremer, Terrence Duffin.

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