Taylor to lead Zimbabwe in comeback Test
Brendan Taylor will lead Zimbabwe in the one-off home Test against Bangladesh which marks their return to Test cricket. Only eight of the 13 selected, including Taylor, have played Tests, a format Zimbabwe haven't played in since 2005 when they voluntarily suspended themselves following concerns they were not competitive enough at the top level.
The selection of the Test side thus presented the Zimbabwean selectors with an issue that had surely not been felt quite as acutely in the limited-overs sides that have turned out in the interim: that of balance. In the event, Prosper Utseya and Regis Chakabva are unlikely to play and so the probable starting XI includes five specialist batsmen, with Tatenda Taibu at No. 6 - and, considering his pedigree alongside those in front of him in the order, he must surely also be counted as a frontline batsman - followed by two allrounders, a spinner, and two new-ball seamers.
Taibu - who had been out of action after the World Cup 2011 with a thumb injury - was included after he kept wicket in the three-day tour game against the Bangladeshis. Chakabva is his understudy, which means that yet again there is no place for Forster Mutizwa, whose unbeaten 87 led Zimbabwe XI to victory over the Bangladeshis. Mutizwa also cracked a fluent 67 in the two-day match against Australia at Kwekwe, and his boundary-hitting ability means he may well come back into contention for national honours in the one-day leg of the series.
Brian Vitori, the 21-year old left-arm seamer, was the only player without international experience to make the squad. His elevation to the Test squad is the culmination of a meteoric rise for the Masvingo-born Vitori, who made his domestic debut during the pitiable Faithwear one-day competition in 2005-06 and, until the end of last season, had remained under the radar.
While it's virtually assured that the much-improved Chris Mpofu will take the new ball, it's not entirely clear whether Vitori or Keegan Meth will partner him. Meth does share new-ball duties with Mpofu in domestic cricket with the Matabeleland Tuskers, and the added control he brings with him may sway the odds in his favour.
The return to Tests also means Zimbabwe will have to break up one of their most dependable bowling partnerships, as only one of either Utseya and Ray Price are expected to be included on Thursday. While both men are automatic selections in limited-overs cricket, Zimbabwe are attempting to move away from their reliance on spin as they re-enter the Test arena.
"Test match cricket and one-day cricket are totally different animals and when you play Test cricket in normal conditions you're always going to be looking to play your extra seamer rather than your extra spinner," said chairman of selectors Alistair Campbell. "We'll still have a look at the wicket on Thursday morning and see what we think it's going to do.
"It is a bit of a foreign concept for us because we've become used to playing a spin-based attack because all of our games have been one-day cricket, but we started thinking about it a long time ago. We knew that this would come about, so for the past six months we've been thinking about which seamers would be in the frame. We've got four here plus Elton, and those are the guys who've shown that they're best equipped to deal with the rigours of Test cricket."
The most obvious weakness in Zimbabwe's squad is their opening pair: Vusi Sibanda and Tino Mawoyo. The pair were able to cling to the crease for almost 55 overs in the first innings of Zimbabwe's match against Australia at the Academy ground in Harare two weeks ago, but neither man lends a feeling of solidity.
Sibanda was able to grind out a dogged 91 in that tour match against the Australians, but would be far happier in the middle order, which is where he plays his domestic cricket. That said, there is possibly no batsman with better, more orthodox technique in the country and Zimbabwe, who seem only ever to select Sibanda as an opener, must be hoping that that will be enough to see off the hazards of the new ball.
Mawoyo doesn't have quite as strong a case for inclusion. While he's showed some tenacity in recent times, his last significant innings was an unbeaten century against New Zealand A last October. At the very least, his experience as an opener in domestic cricket should stand him in good stead, as should Zimbabwe's extensive preparations for this match.
"The team is very much well-prepared," said coach Alan Butcher. "We have had a fitness programme since back in May and we had extensive match practice from the matches against South Africa A sides.
"We've had good variety in terms of the experience we've gained and the match preparation we've had, so I'm very confident that we're fully prepared and ready for the challenge on Thursday."
Zimbabwe squad: Brendan Taylor (capt), Regis Chakabva, Elton Chigumbura, Craig Ervine, Hamilton Masakadza, Tino Mawoyo, Keegan Meth, Chris Mpofu, Ray Price, Vusi Sibanda, Tatenda Taibu (wk), Prosper Utseya, Brian Vitori, Kyle Jarvis.
Liam Brickhill is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo