Experienced New Zealand favourites
Match FactsOctober 15, Harare
Start time 1400 (1200 GMT)
The Big Picture
The last time a full New Zealand outfit toured Zimbabwe, the trial of Saddam Hussein had yet to begin, the Live 8 concerts had just taken place and Stuart Carlisle was still an international batsman. Carlisle is now long gone, but Iraq is still war-torn. Much has changed in Zimbabwe since New Zealand's last visit, but plenty has stayed the same too, and though New Zealand will start their tour as favourites their opponents are now much better equipped to provide a challenge.
Or are they? Twenty20 cricket remains, largely, a domestic game but the format's unique skill set has filtered through to international level for many national teams. Zimbabwe isn't one of them. Pakistan have played 48 Twenty20 Internationals, Australia 44. New Zealand are just behind them, with 43. Zimbabwe have only played 16, winning three of those, and, such is the pace at which the game is moving on these days, they're in danger of being left behind.
Zimbabwe's domestic T20 tournament, with its international imports and glossy marketing, has, no doubt, helped, but they will not develop as a T20 team playing two weeks of the stuff a year. Indeed, in the previous 12 months they've only played four T20Is, and their results have reflected their lack of experience. They showed considerable pluck in pushing South Africa close in an eight-run loss in Kimberley this time last year, but were shown up horribly by Pakistan in the first game of their two-match T20I series before losing the second in hugely anti-climactic circumstances.
Zimbabwe's naivety in the format will not have escaped the attention of a team as street-smart and cunning as New Zealand. The pugnacious visitors have become hardened over the years by the blows dished out by the big boys - particularly their neighbours across the Tasman Sea. They have, in Ross Taylor, a captain raised in the era of T20 cricket, with a bruising batting technique to match and plenty to prove. Though New Zealand haven't played any international cricket since the World Cup, several members of their squad have plied their trade around the world in the interim. New Zealand will want to show, as Pakistan did last month, that they are a cut above the Zimbabweans,
The focus of this tour will, of course, be the one-off Test match but the opening pair of T20Is will provide a handy opportunity for each team to analyse the character of the other. New Zealand's shambolic performance in Bangladesh this time last year will give the Zimbabweans hope, but the visitors will expect nothing less than two outright wins.
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New Zealand LWWLW
Watch out for...
Charles Coventry remains an enigma. In possession of a repertoire of shots that allows him to match any young shot-maker in the game, he remains strangely vulnerable and inconsistent. But boring, he most certainly isn't, and Zimbabwe will be hoping he sticks around long enough to put his career T20I strike rate of 193.33 to good effect.
With 1,638 runs and 43 wickets to his name in T20s, James Franklin adds a weight of experience to New Zealand's line-up with his all-round skills. Franklin, who is approaching his 31st birthday, has gone through a couple of incarnations in his stop-start international career, and the latest version is very well suited to the demands of the game's shortest format.
Pitch and conditions
Zimbabwe is usually baking hot and dry in October, but it's been a strangely cool, damp couple of weeks and it remains to be seen what effect this might have had on the preparation of the pitch at Harare Sports Club. No domestic cricket has been played at the ground since the season began in late September, but the recent matches against Pakistan provided a balanced battle between bat and ball. There is still some rain about but Saturday should be sunny and dry.
Zimbabwe have suggested they'll play an extra batsman in these matches, but they won't want to weaken their bowling resources too much and Prosper Utseya could be the man to miss out on a pitch that should have more in it for the seamers than the spinners.
Zimbabwe (probable) 1 Chamu Chibhabha, 2 Vusi Sibanda, 3 Hamilton Masakadza, 4 Brendan Taylor (capt), 5 Tatenda Taibu (wk), 6 Charles Coventry, 7 Malcolm Waller, 8 Keegan Meth, 9 Ray Price, 10 Kyle Jarvis, 11 Chris Mpofu
New Zealand have several quality allrounders that will give them options with both bat and ball, while a top order that includes Jesse Ryder, Brendon McCullum and Taylor will be hard to keep quiet. Jacob Oram and Nathan McCullum will provide the batting firepower down the order, while Kyle Mills and Andy McKay will probably share the new ball.
New Zealand (probable) 1 Jesse Ryder, 2 Brendon McCullum (wk), 3 Martin Guptill, 4 Kane Williamson, 5 Ross Taylor (capt), 6 James Franklin, 7 Jacob Oram, 8 Nathan McCullum, 9 Luke Woodcock, 10 Kyle Mills, 11 Andy McKay
Stats and trivia
- Brendon McCullum is New Zealand's leading runscorer in T20Is, with 1,100 runs. His brother Nathan is their second-highest wicket taker, with 26 scalps.
- The teams have only met once before in a T20I, New Zealand winning a damp washout of a game at the World Twenty20 in the Caribbean last year by seven runs on Duckworth/Lewis.
- Hamilton Masakadza and Elton Chigumbura are the only two players to have taken part in all 16 of Zimbabwe's T20Is, and Masakadza is their leading run-scorer with 426 runs to his name.
- Zimbabwe have not won a T20I since their match against West Indies at Port of Spain in February 2010.
"The big difference between the two teams is experience; New Zealand are an experienced group that has been playing together for a long time, yet our team is only just starting to play together and emerging."
Zimbabwe coach Dave Houghton believes New Zealand's greater experience will stand them in good stead in Zimbabwe
Liam Brickhill is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo