Daunting task awaits Zimbabwe in Perth
Australia, such a dominant force in Test cricket, have managed to find ways to motivate themselves for every match, even against mediocre teams. Which is why Zimbabwe face such a stiff task in the first Test, which starts at Perth on Thursday.
Apart from everything else, the match is Zimbabwe's first on Australian soil, and only the second Test between the two teams. That would normally be sufficient to fire up the Australians, but there are other reasons to inspire them too. Steve Waugh has said that the match is likely to be his last in Perth, the only current Australian venue where he hasn't scored a Test hundred. Added to that is the fact that he needs only two more centuries to equal Sunil Gavaskar's world record of 34.
"This will be a good chance it will be my last Test in Perth," said Waugh. "I'm 38, I've got to be realistic about it. And if it is, I'll be trying to enjoy every minute of it. I'll be trying to go out there and score runs, if I get a hundred I'll be very happy." Given Zimbabwe's modest bowling attack, that is a distinct possibility.
Memories of Waugh's magnificent century against England at Sydney last summer should be a reminder to his opponents of how he can apply his mind so superbly to a task. Also, there are several other players with points to prove.
Damien Martyn is back in the side after the finger injury which forced him out of the series against West Indies and Bangladesh. With Martin Love waiting in the wings - he scored a century in his last Test innings, against Bangladesh at Cairns in July - there is enough incentive for Martyn to perform in front of his home crowd.
Glenn McGrath's failure to recover from an ankle injury provides another opportunity for Andy Bichel - a replacement player that most sides in the world would relish - to assert his value to the team. Similarly, Stuart MacGill has prospered whenever Shane Warne has been unavailable.
On a pitch that looks drier than normal, MacGill comes into the game after some exceptional bowling in the nets. "He's bowling probably the best I've seen him, so he's ready to go, he looks a million dollars," said Waugh, tipping MacGill to play a big role in the match.
Scoring runs against the fearsome Australian attack will be the biggest hurdle for the Zimbabweans. Craig Wishart showed signs that he had the skills required to play on the WACA pitch, with a century against Western Australia, but the quality of the bowling will demand even greater application from the entire top order.
Heath Streak is the class act of the bowling unit, while Andy Blignaut has shown that he can offer useful support. Ray Price, the left-arm spinner, was under an injury cloud in the lead-up to the Test and the selectors delayed a decision on him for as long as possible. But it is a demonstration of the inexperience in the side that Price, with 36 Test wickets, is the best-performed bowler behind Streak, who has 187.
The last of Zimbabwe's seven Test wins came way back in 2001, against Bangladesh. In Perth, they face a daunting task, and Streak has already admitted that a draw would be a good result for his side.
Australia 1 Matthew Hayden, 2 Justin Langer, 3 Ricky Ponting, 4 Damien Martyn, 5 Steve Waugh (capt), 6 Darren Lehmann, 7 Adam Gilchrist, 8 Andy Bichel, 9 Brett Lee, 10 Jason Gillespie, 11 Stuart MacGill.
Zimbabwe (from) Dion Ebrahim, Trevor Gripper, Mark Vermeulen, Stuart Carlisle, Craig Wishart, Stuart Matsikenyeri, Sean Ervine, Tatenda Taibu (wk), Craig Evans, Heath Streak (capt), Andy Blignaut, Douglas Hondo, Raymond Price.