Struggling teams in basement battle
Thursday, March 4, Providence
Start time 0930 (1330 GMT)
West Indies and Zimbabwe are both in the midst of internal changes under newly-appointed coaches, but despite assurances from captain Prosper Utseya that the team would not get ahead of themselves after their 26-run victory in the Twenty20 at Port of Spain, the mood in the Zimbabwe camp is likely to be far more buoyant ahead of the one-day series. For their part, West Indies will be desperate for a morale-boosting victory in the first ODI in Guyana after a winless tour of Australia and their spineless batting in Trinidad.
While it is still far too early to place Zimbabwe unequivocally in cricket's mainstream, the changes in the country's cricket are evident in the refurbished domestic structure, a successfully-organised domestic Twenty20 league, and the appointment of Alan Butcher, Stephen Mangongo, Heath Streak and Grant Flower to key coaching positions. Tatenda Taibu, one of their most experienced players, has said that the team "want to play hard cricket again", and the time has come for them to back up words with results.
Ottis Gibson, West Indies' new coach, has insisted that his side did not take the opposition lightly in the Twenty20, but that should make the team's inability to come to terms with Zimbabwe's tactics all the more worrying. The team that played on Sunday was still stripped of key players, but West Indies are well and truly in the doldrums, having won just two games since reaching the World Twenty20 semi-finals in June last year, and with the threat of disputes between the board and players' association still lingering.
Chris Gayle has returned to their squad after being given compassionate leave to attend to his ailing mother. With the team management still assessing the fitness of Ramnaresh Sarwan and Dwayne Bravo, Gayle's performance at the top of the order - together with that of Shivnarine Chanderpaul in the middle - will be crucial. If West Indies fail to win the first one-dayer, panic could set in requiring Sarwan and Bravo to be fast-tracked back into the side.
Zimbabwe's exposure to limited-overs cricket recently has been largely confined to playing Bangladesh - they won four and lost ten ODIs against them in 2009 - and Kenya. They have made clear their goal to return to Test cricket in the near future, and a strong showing in one-dayers against a Test nation - albeit a weak one - will be vital to their aims.
Form Guide (Last five completed matches)Zimbabwe LLLLL
West Indies LLLLL
Watch out for
A dominant force in Zimbabwean domestic cricket this season, Elton Chigumbura was a member of the Zimbabwe team that toured the West Indies in 2006, and as a 20-year-old struck a 59-ball 60 at the Bourda Oval in Georgetown. He provided a glimpse of his hitting ability with a rapid 34 in Zimbabwe's shock victory in the Twenty20 at Queen's Park Oval on Sunday, and with conditions at Providence likely to be similarly challenging, quick runs from Chigumbura will be vital to bolster a brittle batting line-up and give Zimbabwe's spin-heavy attack a defendable total. A wicket-taker rather than a run-saver, he is also likely to open the bowling.
Chris Gayle has been the man to inspire West Indies with explosive innings in recent years, and they will certainly be bolstered by his return to the squad. Though he struggled in the recent one-day series in Australia - particularly against Doug Bollinger's pace and aggression - playing Zimbabwe in much more familiar conditions is a far less daunting proposition. Gayle is capable of dominating any international attack once he gets going, and has a prolific record against Zimbabwe, with over 1,000 runs - including two hundreds - against them in 15 matches. While his record at Providence is not good, if Zimbabwe do not dismiss him early Gayle could easily take West Indies' total beyond the reach of the touring side's batsmen.
Though Dwayne Bravo and Ramnaresh Sarwan have not been included in the squad for the opening one-day game, West Indies will be boosted by Gayle's return, and will also depend heavily on Chanderpaul's extensive experience and calm batting.
West Indies (probable) - 1 Chris Gayle (capt), 2 Adrian Barath, 3 Shivnarine Chanderpaul, 4 Narsingh Deonarine, 5 Kieron Pollard, 6 Denesh Ramdin (wk), 7 Darren Sammy, 8 Dwayne Smith, 9 Kemar Roach, 10 Sulieman Benn, 11 Nikita Miller
Chris Mpofu and Kyle Jarvis both proved expensive in Zimbabwe's warm-up game against the UWI Vice Chancellor's XI, and with another spin-friendly surface expected in Guyana, Zimbabwe could well go for a three-pronged slow bowling attack once again.
Zimbabwe (probable): 1 Vusi Sibanda, 2 Hamilton Masakadza, 3 Brendan Taylor 4 Tatenda Taibu (wk), 5 Charles Coventry, 6 Greg Lamb, 7 Elton Chigumbura, 8 Prosper Utseya (capt), 9 Ray Price, 10 Graeme Cremer, 11 Shingirai Masakadza
Pitch and conditions
A contributing factor to the dry, crumbling pitch used in the Twenty20 in Trinidad is the drought which has gripped the entire Caribbean region since October - usually the wettest month - and Guyana has certainly not escaped its effects. Expect hot, dry conditions and another cracked, spin-friendly surface.
Stats and trivia
- The sides batting first at the Providence Stadium have won six of the eight games played there since April 2007.
- Bermuda and Canada are the only teams Zimbabwe have ever beaten in one-day internationals in the West Indies. They managed a tie against Ireland at the World Cup, but have lost eight games - with one match rained off - against the home team since they first toured the region in 1999-2000.
- Although the wicket for Thursday's game is expected to favour spinners, there are only two slow bowlers - Muttiah Muralitharan and Daniel Vettori - in the top ten of the list of bowlers who have taken the most wickets at the ground.
"We know the West Indies are a good team, but once we settle down and play good cricket, we know we can be tough for any opposition on any given day."
Prosper Utseya believes his team have a good chance of victory in the one-day series
"He is an inspiration to the guys. He gives them a lift as if they are on Cloud Nine."
Ottis Gibson hints at Chris Gayle's importance to the confidence of a beleaguered West Indies team.
Liam Brickhill is an assistant editor at Cricinfo