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October 31, 2011
Zimbabwe v New Zealand, November 1, Bulawayo
Start time 1000 (0800 GMT)
New Zealand have not played a Test since the home series against Pakistan ended in January 2011. They haven't won a Test since beating Bangladesh at Seddon Park in February 2010. They haven't beaten a top-flight side since the victory against Pakistan in Dunedin in November 2009. Tests series and successes have been few and far between for them in recent times and the one-off match against Zimbabwe is their only game ahead of the tour of Australia in December.
New Zealand are presently No. 8 on the ICC's Test rankings and need every victory they can get to try and bridge the gap between them and West Indies.
Zimbabwe's re-entry to the Test fold is only two matches old. They won the first against Bangladesh, and enjoyed the limelight of that comeback win, but lost the second to Pakistan, after which a succession of limited-overs defeats has highlighted the shortcomings of their cricket. Zimbabwe, however, had a strong first-innings performance against Pakistan in Bulawayo. A second-innings collapse caused a sudden defeat. Zimbabwe have had several impressive individual performances since them - most of them from their captain Brendan Taylor - and the challenge is to produce a compelling collective effort.
Zimbabwe managed one such collective effort in the ODI series, after it had been lost. They pulled off a record chase by gunning down a target of 329 in Bulawayo with one wicket in hand and a ball to spare. While their batsmen will take confidence from that effort into the Test, Zimbabwe's bowlers won't. They've struggled to strike and contain New Zealand's batsmen all tour, and unless they produce an extraordinary turnaround in form, the best Zimbabwe can hope for is a draw.
Zimbabwe: LW (most recent first)
New Zealand: DLLDD
In the spotlight
New Zealand's squad has been strengthened by the addition of Daniel Vettori, who doesn't play limited-overs cricket anymore. He eased into the tour by taking 3 for 35 and scoring 19 and 32 not out in the warm-up game against Zimbabwe A. Vettori's ability to out-think his opponents and to bowl long spells of accurate left-arm spin will test the skill and patience of Zimbabwe batsmen. His plucky lower-order batting will also add depth to a line-up that Zimbabwe have struggled to get through.
Can Brendan Taylor continue his outstanding limited-overs form in the one-off Test? He scored back-to-back centuries in the first two ODIs and 75 in the third. All of those innings lifted Zimbabwe out of adverse situations and were superbly paced. The rest of the batsmen play around Taylor and Zimbabwe's fortune in the Test will be closely tied with that of their captain's.
Zimbabwe have two players injured ahead of the Test. Tatenda Taibu, one of their best batsmen, sustained a finger injury, while Brian Vitori, the fast bowler who has 12 wickets from five ODIs and five wickets in two Tests, did not recover from a shin problem that sidelined him from the limited-overs games against New Zealand. Allrounder Elton Chigumbura also had a knee problem, though, he hasn't been ruled out. Malcolm Waller, who scored a match-winning 99 in the third ODI, could make a debut, along with either Njabulo Ncube or Keegan Meth.
Zimbabwe (probable): 1 Tino Mawoyo, 2 Vusi Sibanda, 3 Hamilton Masakadza, 4 Brendan Taylor (capt), 5 Forster Mutizwa (wk), 6 Elton Chigumbura, 7 Malcolm Waller, 8 Njabulo Ncube/Keegan Meth, 9 Ray Price, 10 Kyle Jarvis, 11 Chris Mpofu.
Injuries to Kyle Mills and Jesse Ryder reduced New Zealand's squad from 15 to 13 but no replacements were called up on such short notice. Mills tore an abductor muscle and Ryder strained his right calf. There was more bad news for the visitors on the eve of the Test, with fast bowler Andy McKay down with a stomach bug, which means they may have only 12 fit players to choose from. Unless New Zealand decide to play two spinners, Jeetan Patel will be the one to miss out.
New Zealand (probable): 1 Martin Guptill, 2 Brendon McCullum, 3 Kane Williamson, 4 Ross Taylor (capt), 5 BJ Watling, 6 , 7 Reece Young (wk), 8 Daniel Vettori, 9 Andy McKay/Graeme Aldridge/Doug Bracewell, 10 Andy McKay/Graeme Aldridge/Doug Bracewell , 11 Chris Martin.
Pitch and conditions
The pitch in Bulawayo is expected to be batting friendly. The forecast is clear for the first day, but some rain is predicted on the second and third, after which it is fair once again.
Stats and trivia
"Daniel Vettori's arrival is a big boost for them [New Zealand], but we'll look to bat long and if we can take the game deep into day five then anything can happen."
The Zimbabwe captain, Brendan Taylor
"That one-day game was 42 degrees and our bowlers struggled to bowl longer than three- or four-over spells, so we're going to have to try and get a little bit more out of our bowlers in terms of spells."
Ross Taylor on the challenge of playing in Bulawayo.
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