Excited about what Vitori, Jarvis can do - Taylor
Before Brian Vitori made his Test debut in August last year, he said one of the reasons he started playing cricket was because it would be his ticket to the world. His first two internationals took him only to places he already knew, Harare and Bulawayo, but his third will be played somewhere he has never been before, Napier.
Vitori will open the bowling with Kyle Jarvis for Zimbabwe against New Zealand on Thursday - the first away Test for his country since they made their comeback five months ago. More interestingly for the pair, it will be the first time they will bowl on a pitch that may offer them some assistance, compared to the flat tracks they toil on at home.
New Zealand are reportedly preparing a green top for their four seamers, but the surface is something Zimbabwe could benefit from as well. "It looks like a pitch with a lot of pace and bounce and I'm very excited about what they [Vitori and Jarvis] have to offer," Brendan Taylor, the Zimbabwe captain, told ESPNCricinfo. "The wind is also a factor here, so hopefully the ball swing for them as well. New Zealand have a good batting unit so they will be tested but they have been in good form, so I hope they do well."
The pair took ten wickets between them in the Test against Bangladesh in Harare but found the going tougher on a placid pitch in Bulawayo against Pakistan. Vitori, who was a virtual unknown last season, then sustained a shin injury and had to sit out the series against New Zealand. He made his comeback in the domestic 20-over tournament and has found form again with 12 wickets from his last two first-class matches. Jarvis has also been putting in good performances and has 15 wickets from his last two first-class outings.
The duo will have to function without senior seamer Chris Mpofu, who is not in the touring party because of a back injury. Mpofu was moved to first-change with the arrival of the two tearaways and played an important role in mentoring them during matches. "It's disappointing about Chris but we're going to give Shingi [Masakadza] a go," Taylor said. "Hopefully he can also contribute with the bat down the order."
Shingi, Hamilton's brother, was considered one of the most promising players on the domestic circuit a year ago but a loss of form resulted in him losing favour. This season, he has shown immense improvement and provides Zimbabwe with another all-round option, something coach Alan Butcher has termed crucial to their success at the highest level.
Zimbabwe will go into the Test with three allrounders in Masakadza, Malcolm Waller and Graeme Cremer, which Taylor says will lengthen their batting. "In the last few matches we've had Ray Price batting at No. 8 and not taking anything away from him, it left our batting a little short," Taylor said. "With Graeme we should bat a little deeper." Price sustained a groin injury and was ruled out of the one-off Test, giving Cremer an opportunity.
Batting will be Zimbabwe's concern, with Vusi Sibanda not included in the squad after being found ineligible for the national team. Hamilton Masakadza will open the batting, something that is "nothing new for him" according to Taylor, and Forster Mutizwa will get an opportunity at No. 3. "He [Mutizwa] has been very successful in the domestic competition and hopefully he will take his chance," Taylor said. Mutizwa is third on the first-class batting rankings, with 409 runs at an average of 68.16.
The rest of the line-up will look the same as it did in the previous three Tests, with Taylor providing the experience at No. 4. The Zimbabwe captain has spent the last few weeks in New Zealand playing in the HRV Cup and acclimatising to the conditions. He said the experience should benefit the squad as a whole. "Playing as an overseas player, I had some added responsibility and it helped me to prepare well to lead the team here. If I lead from the front, hopefully everyone will follow."
Like any captain, Taylor wants to target victory but realises there are also smaller goals to meet. "I will be very happy if we can take the match deep into five days, like we did in Bulawayo [against New Zealand]," Taylor said. "And if we can bat 130 or 140 overs. Everyone understands their roles."
Zimbabwe play just one Test in the first half of the year (they are next scheduled to host Bangladesh in August) and Taylor said they want to make as good an impression as they can. "It will be a massive challenge for us to play away from home but good for the guys to experience different conditions. Everyone is very excited and there will be some nerves," he said. "It's a good opportunity for us to show the world that we can compete." And he couldn't help himself. "Not just compete, but also win."
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent