Zimbabwe in need of quick turnaround
February 6, Whangarei
Start time 1100 (2200 GMT)
As with most one-day series, the first match of this one served as an illustration of the work that needs to be done from both sides.
New Zealand were in a dominant position at 223 for 6 in the 43rd over but instead of turning that into a score flirting with 300, they were held to 248 as they lost four wickets for 25 runs in five overs. Zimbabwe's bowlers gave their batsmen a chasable total, but at 15 for 3, they could not recover enough to even get close. Both teams will want to bat better but still maintain an incisive edge with the ball.
The hosts have two more matches to toggle combinations before what they consider their 'real' challenge of the summer, against South Africa. They will look to find permanent homes for Andrew Ellis, Tarun Nethula, Tom Latham and Michael Bates in the starting XI while ensuring the regulars have enough match time to be peaking mid-month.
Zimbabwe have much ground to cover, very quickly. This is their big test of the summer and to leave it having taken steps back instead of forward, or even simply solidifying their stand-still position, will be a failure. They have to rebuild - everything from their mental frame to their batting line-up but they showed massive improvement from the Test to the first ODI and if they can keep the increments growing, could even notch up a win or two on the way.
Form Guide (most recent first)
New Zealand WLWWL
Players to watch
At just 19, Tom Latham has been earmarked as one of New Zealand's future stars. He made 24 in his first ODI and has a reputation that suggests much more is around the corner. In 11 List A matches, he has scored 431 runs but it's his average of 47.88 and strike rate of close to 95 that threatens to turn him into a forceful middle-order presence. If the top four come good and there is enough time in the innings, the stage could be set for Latham to light it up.
Despite earning himself some time as one of the stalwarts of the side, Hamilton Masakadza is facing increasing pressure. He last scored a half-century in September last year but has not scored an ODI hundred since 2009, when he achieved an unbeaten 178 against Kenya. With temperament and technique that should translate into authority and success on the pitch, Masakadza is getting something wrong and, given Zimbabwe's troubles on tour, there would be no better time to get it right than now.
New Zealand have committed to giving all 14 men in their squad a run and it's the turn of Nethula, the legspinner, to get an opportunity, at the expense of one of the bowlers.
New Zealand: (probable) 1 Martin Guptill, 2 Rob Nicol, 3 Brendon McCullum, 4 Kane Williamson, 5 Tom Latham, 6 Dean Brownlie, 7 Nathan McCullum, 8 Jacob Oram, 9 Tarun Nethula, 10 and 11 Kyle Mills/Tim Southee/Doug Bracewell
With a fragile top-order, Zimbabwe may look to beef up by inserting one of Tino Mawoyo or Forster Mutizwa in place of Stuart Matsikenyeri or Regis Chakabva respectively. Prosper Utseya may also be included in the starting XI, in place of Ray Price, if Zimbabwe want an attacking spinner, or Keegan Meth. Shingi Masakadza and Kyle Jarvis will likely carry the seamers' duties with Brian Vitori in charge of drinks.
Zimbabwe: (probable) 1 Stuart Matsikenyeri, 2 Hamilton Masakadza, 3 Regis Chakabva, 4 Brendan Taylor, 5 Tatenda Taibu, 6 Malcolm Waller, 7 Elton Chigumbura, 8 Keegan Meth, 9 Shingi Masakadza, 10 Ray Price, 11 Kyle Jarvis
Pitch and Conditions
The Cobham Oval will host its first international after being approved as a Test venue last year. It has a capacity of 5,500 and is the 12th in New Zealand to host an ODI. Northland Cricket Association's curator Simon Harvey has been "quite stressed," according to the ground's operations manager, Stephen Curtis, because he sees the match as a test for whether the ground will be able to host other higher-profile fixtures in future. The expectation is of a run-laden, flat pitch, with the highest score recorded being 299 for 7 in the 2007-8 season. The ground hosted its first international team in 16 years when Pakistan visited in 2010 and were pleased with the facilities and conditions. A capacity crowd is expected on what should be a moderately warm day with the chance of a few showers.
Stats and Trivia
"As the series progresses, both teams get a better read on each other what they're trying to do There's a better understanding of individual strengths and weaknesses. There's no doubt they're going to come back a lot better, harder and stronger."
New Zealand paceman Kyle Mills expects Zimbabwe to develop with the series
"I may as well support the boys because they can be role models and influencers at national level if they choose to be."
Former Zimbabwe player Henry Olonga is no longer against Zimbabwe playing international cricket tours
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent