Oct 29-Nov 2, 2016, Harare
Start time 9.30 am (0730 GMT)
The last time Sri Lanka played Tests against Zimbabwe was in 2004, when Marvan Atapattu was in his first full series as captain. Kumar Sangakkara made 270 in that Bulawayo Test, his second double-hundred. Between then and now Sangakkara improved his high score twice and retired with only one less double-hundred than Don Bradman's twelve. No Sri Lankans from that tour are on this one.
Elton Chigumbura and Tinashe Panyangara made their debuts during that series and remain Zimbabwe's only active cricketers from that tour. Unlike several of those Sri Lankans, who had storied careers, Chigumbura played only 14 Tests and Panyangara nine. The Harare Test beginning this Saturday will only be Zimbabwe's 25th since then, and neither player will feature in it.
Between 2004 and 2016, cricket in Zimbabwe has suffered because of the board's financial trouble and a talent exodus as players and coaches sought better opportunities with other teams. Both issues fed off each other.
There is a sense of optimism now, though. Heath Streak, one of Zimbabwe's finest cricketers, is back - this time as coach - and has a plan that puts players first. With Tatenda Taibu, who is now a selector and development officer, Streak aims to create a structure that nurtures budding cricketers. And that's whom this match will be about for Zimbabwe.
Their next Test series is a return tour to Sri Lanka in June 2017, but Streak has vowed to have plenty of cricket before then, which might mean these fixtures are not make or break for players like the uncapped youngsters Tarisai Musakanda and Carl Mumba, and the returning Malcolm Waller, who hasn't played a Test since 2014. That breathing space could facilitate a positive approach from Zimbabwe instead of being wary of embarrassment, a theme that had crept into their cricket according to Streak.
Sri Lanka have a young side of their own. A combination of injuries and player management issues have deprived them of their captain Angelo Mathews, vice-captain Dinesh Chandimal, and fast bowlers Dhammika Prasad, Nuwan Pradeep and Dushmantha Chameera. However, the stand-in captain Rangana Herath was not worried, especially after the recent 3-0 whitewash of Australia.
Herath, at the age of 38, was at the forefront of that victory with 28 wickets, and he was supported by fellow spinners Dilruwan Perera and Lakshan Sandakan. However, Sri Lanka were able to play three spinners because Mathews provided a medium-pace option, which they will now be without. Their batting is also inexperienced, with only Dimuth Karunaratne and Upul Tharanga, a late inclusion in the squad, having played more than five away Tests.
Herath's story of leading Sri Lanka for the first time 17 years after making his debut adds to the significance of this fixture. It is also Zimbabwe's 100th Test, and they will hope to end their winless record against Sri Lanka.
Zimbabwe LLLLL (completed matches, most recent first)
In the spotlight
Brian Chari and Peter Moor scored centuries in the games against Pakistan A earlier this month. It's likely they will feature in this game to strengthen the Zimbabwe batting. Malcom Waller will also be hoping to claim his spot after returning to the Test squad; he made four fifties across formats against Pakistan A recently.
Sri Lanka have persisted with Dimuth Karunaratne, despite the general feeling back home that he doesn't belong at the highest level. He's coming off a series against West Indies A in which he made 131, 39 not out, 68 and 3. As the most senior batsman in this side, he has a point to prove, especially with eight of his 12 most recent Test innings ending in single digits.
Zimbabwe's strength is their batting. Hamilton Masakadza, Sean Williams and Craig Ervine will form the core, and Peter Moor is certain to play. Moor has occasional back issues, and Regis Chakabva keeping wicket could mean no place in the team for Sikandar Raza. Carl Mumba is likely to make debut, but Musakanda might have to wait.
Zimbabwe (probable) 1 Tino Mawoyo, 2 Brian Chari, 3 Hamilton Masakadza, 4 Craig Ervine, 5 Sean Williams, 6 Peter Moor, 7 Regis Chakabva/Sikandar Raza, 8 Graeme Cremer, 9 Donald Tiripano, 10 Carl Mumba, 11 Chris Mpofu
Upul Tharanga and the uncapped Asela Gunaratne are likely to replace Mathews and Chandimal in Sri Lanka's line-up. Teenage fast bowler Lahiru Kumara could also make a debut depending on Sri Lanka's combination.
Sri Lanka (probable): 1 Kaushal Silva, 2 Dimuth Karunaratne, 3 Kusal Perera, 4 Kusal Mendis, 5 Upul Tharanga, 6 Niroshan Dickwella, 7 Dananjaya de Silva, 8 Dilruwan Perera, 9 Rangana Herath, 10 Suranga Lakmal, 11 Lahiru Gamage
Pitch and conditions
The pitch looked like a typical Harare Sports Club surface, with a consistent layer of grass that should hold the surface together over five days without offering huge assistance to the seamers. October is the hottest month in Zimbabwe and no rain is forecast.
Stats and trivia
All of Zimbabwe's 11 Test wins have come against subcontinent teams, but have never beaten Sri Lanka in 15 encounters
Herath needs 24 wickets to pass Chaminda Vaas' 355 and become Sri Lanka's second highest wicket-taker
Hamilton Masakadza needs 269 more to become the fifth Zimbabwean to score 2000 runs. He needs 259 to overtake Heath Streak, who has 1990 runs.
"We're still the underdogs, but with them having a few debutants and missing Angelo Mathews - who gives them a lot of balance and is a serious player - they will be weaker by their standards."
Zimbabwe head coach Heath Streak
"We learnt a little bit from playing Australia, when they came as the No 1 Test nation and we were well down the rankings list, yet we were able to outplay them. So I don't think you can look at an opposition in Test cricket and think it will be an easy ride. Zimbabwe have played quite a bit of good cricket recently so they're sharp and have probably worked out their best combinations, so we're expecting them to be a really good team."
Sri Lanka coach Graham Ford