Zimbabwe focus on spin and fitness
Zimbabwe are set to play a three-Test series after a gap of 12 years. As good as it may be for a team that has been unofficially relegated to the backwaters to finally get some cricketing mileage, it presents a tough challenge.
Zimbabwe face potentially 15 days of rigorous trial against Bangladesh. And they probably know they would have done extremely well if the series lasts the full 15 days.
Long series can take a toll on teams; it's like getting stuck in a vortex, as India found out recently on their five-Test tour to England, with giving up and going down with the flow being the likely end. Zimbabwe captain Brendan Taylor hasn't been part of a long series and realises the challenge ahead.
"It's been 10 years, over 12 years, since we played three-Test match series," Taylor said. "The guys are physically fit, they have worked very hard on the fitness. The conditions are always challenging with the humidity. That's the way it goes. Test cricket is never going to be easy. It's always going to be a challenge."
In the last two years, the team has made strides by winning a Test against Pakistan and an ODI against Australia, both at home. The away record over the last five years, however, has been shambolic. Three Tests, three losses, a highest score of 211, a low of 51, no centuries, two fifties. It's a record that would make a team look inwards much before they even start contemplating the opposition. So when they walk out on Saturday, Zimbabwe will have an internal demon to fight. The external one, spin, will make that job even harder.
"I think spin is always going to be the main threat to us," Taylor said. "Our preparation coming in to the first Test has been solely focusing on spin. I am not disregarding anything else. They can bat very well in these conditions and they have got a couple of good seamers, so we have to worry about all three departments."
One area where Zimbabwe are comparatively better placed is their bowling. Although, the attack lacks experience, it makes it up in variety. And they have a posse of spin options in their attack. Left-arm spinner Wellington Masakadza, who recently toured Bangladesh with the Zimbabwe A side, is one of the four in the squad and Mangongo had highlighted Wellington's experience in the conditions as an advantage. Taylor reiterated the fact they had players with experience of the conditions without saying who was likely to play.
"In spinning conditions, you have got to back the spinners," he said. "And we have got a couple of experienced seam bowlers up front who can reverse the ball later on, they are an asset for us. We have got some guys who have got experience playing here at the first-class level. Hopefully, we can use to that advantage."
Devashish Fuloria is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo