Battling Zimbabwe hope for turnaround
Zimbabwe v New Zealand, October 22, Harare
Start time 0930 (0730 GMT)
After the joyous celebration of their victorious return to Test cricket against Bangladesh at the beginning of August, Zimbabwe have awoken in the harsh light of the morning after. Bleary-eyed, smoke-stained, and in possession of an earth-trembling hangover. New Zealand's examination of their deficiencies has been clinical and unforgiving, and a mid-series turnaround is about as likely as a thunderstorm in the Atacama. Three wickets in three matches is a rather stunning indictment of a bowling attack, even allowing for inexperience, and New Zealand's middle order batsmen will be beginning to wonder why they were brought on this tour.
Or perhaps that is a little harsh on Zimbabwe. A couple of borderline decisions have gone against them on this tour, and with a little more luck they may well have at least been competitive. But patience is an increasingly rare commodity in a fast-paced sport, and Zimbabwe need something inspirational if they are to rise above this familiar plateau. Brendan Taylor's century on Thursday was apparently not enough, leaving the hosts in serious danger of a second successive series whitewash.
Against Bangladesh they were a team inspired, bristling with a sense of belief against well-known opponents. Pakistan's own flaws and inconsistencies helped give the impression that, even though they might not win, Zimbabwe could well slug it out with some of bigger teams. New Zealand have given them no such quarter, however, and have no reason to expect that Saturday's match will be any different.
The one danger for the visitors is, should Zimbabwe somehow hustle a few wickets, a middle order with little game time under their belts might struggle to assert themselves. That's hardly the most pressing of problems, though, and the feeling that this series is nothing more than a glorified warm-up for their challenge against a resurgent Australia in December is hard to shake.
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New Zealand: WLWLW
In the spotlight
It wasn't so long ago that Hamilton Masakadza appeared to be just the sort of top-order anchor that Zimbabwe were pining for. Albeit against largely weaker opposition, he scored over 1000 runs in ODIs in 2009 at an average of 43.48. That's exactly the sort of consistency missing from Zimbabwe at the moment, and after a run of single-figure scores Masakadza will be anxious to make a contribution.
Ross Taylor has faced just five deliveries in the three international matches on this tour so far, and will be itching to fill his boots against an increasingly deflated bowling attack. He will also want to make his mark on his first extended run as the full-fledged New Zealand captain. He needs runs as well as wins to do so.
To whom can Zimbabwe turn? Dropping batsmen would only dent their confidence further, but it might do to tweak the bowling line-up in search of a wicket-taker. Keegan Meth picked up eight scalps in his last match for Matabeleland Tuskers, and could be brought in to take the new ball with Kyle Jarvis.
Zimbabwe: (probable) 1 Hamilton Masakadza, 2 Vusi Sibanda, 3 Brendan Taylor (capt), 4 Chamu Chibhabha, 5 Tatenda Taibu, 6 Forster Mutizwa (wk), 7 Elton Chigumbura, 8 Keegan Meth, 9 Prosper Utseya, 10 Ray Price, 11 Kyle Jarvis
New Zealand have no real cause to tinker with what has proved a winning combination, and it would be a little unfair to re-shuffle their middle order with hardly any of their batsmen having had a good run in the middle. They will, in all likelihood, look to secure the series before experimenting too much with their line-up.
New Zealand (probable) 1 Martin Guptill, 2 Brendon McCullum (wk), 3 Jesse Ryder 4, Ross Taylor (capt), 5 Kane Williamson/Rob Nicol, 6 James Franklin, 7 Nathan McCullum, 8 Jacob Oram, 9 Doug Bracewell, 10 Kyle Mills, 11 Luke Woodcock
Stats and trivia
- Brendon McCullum now averages 117.50 against Zimbabwe, across formats. He's been dismissed just once in his last five international innings against them, while helping himself to 282 runs. His average against them in ODIs is now a whopping 168.
- Zimbabwe have not won an ODI against New Zealand since January 2001, when their victory at Eden Park also sealed their first away limited-overs series win.
Liam Brickhill is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo