Weakened bowling a concern for Zimbabwe
Andy Waller must have more on his mind than the average coach ahead of Zimbabwe's two-Test series against Pakistan. For a start, he will be wondering if the series will even go ahead.
Zimbabwe's newly-formed players' union may yet boycott the matches, as they have been threatening to do since Pakistan arrived in the country more than two weeks' ago, because of non-payment of salaries. The players have not received their July or August remuneration or the match fees they negotiated with ZC, despite being promised the monies would be transferred into their accounts last Thursday. They have given ZC until Monday to pay up or they will not take the field in whites on Tuesday.
Earlier, the players had also said that they would not take part in the T20s or the third ODI, but they reached an agreement with ZC at the 11th hour. An insider believes this will not happen again. The source told ESPNcricinfo the players are likely to stop crying wolf and follow through with their ultimatum this time. Even Waller seems to think the payments issue will have an effect on the Tests.
"I think the unhappiness over payments will spill into the series, unfortunately. I don't think it has been solved yet," he said. "I am not a 100% sure exactly, but I am under the impression that nothing's definite yet."
Waller, like the rest of us, will have to wait to hear their final decision, but he will also contemplate how to get the best of a clearly disgruntled group if they opt to compete. Even though Zimbabwe found it in themselves to win the first ODI against Pakistan, they have not fared well recently and were defeated in all nine matches - five ODIs against India, two T20s and two ODIs against Pakistan - in which Waller has been in charge.
He has not coached them in a Test yet, but has already seen enough to know what Zimbabwe's biggest challenge will be. "The main concern I have is probably on the bowling side: how are we going to get 20 wickets?," he asked after the third ODI. Zimbabwe have not bowled a team out once since Waller took over so to expect them to do it twice will be a tough ask. To ask them to do it twice without two of the most attacking bowlers may well be a bridge too far.
Jarvis retired from international cricket on the eve of the Pakistan series, saying the cash-flow situation had made it impossible for him to continue playing for Zimbabwe, while Cremer made himself unavailable during the Bulawayo leg of the India tour. ESPNcricinfo understands Cremer does not want to be considered for Zimbabwe until he is paid monies owed to him and is assured of financial security going forward.
That leaves the rest with a lot more responsibility and not a lot of experience to bank on. Brian Vitori, who partnered Jarvis and even outshone him on Zimbabwe's Test comeback, will likely have to lead the attack as the one of the most experienced men, with just three caps. He has not played the longest form in 18 months since January last year. Despite a promising start to Test cricket, injuries and a lack of form have hampered his progress.
Shingi Masakadza and Tinashe Panyangara have also played a trio of Tests each - Panyangara more than eight years ago in 2005 - but both have shown fairly good control in the lead-up. Much is expected from young Tendai Chatara, who impressed in West Indies earlier this year, and Zimbabwe will have to take a gamble on the kind of spinner they are going to use.
Without Cremer, their attacking options will be between Natsai Mushangwe and Tinotenda Mutombodzi but they could go for the safety of a containing bowler instead. Prosper Utseya is their leading offspinner and has the experience of years and captaincy behind him to add solidity to an otherwise fragile attack.
All Waller can do is be optimistic. "I still believe our bowlers can go out and do the job," he said, although he confined that to doing it in the first match. "Bulawayo will be difficult because it's a batting paradise down there and we know the quality of the Pakistan batting, so we are going to have to do something exceptional to beat them down there. If we are going to beat them, I think it's going to have to be at Harare, on a wicket that will give us more of a chance."
Efforts have been made at Queens Club - where Pakistan beat Zimbabwe in 2011 - to ensure it is less flat and new clay has been laid on three of the pitches on the square . However, whether Zimbabwe will even get down to Bulawayo to play will depend on how quickly ZC can come up with cash and how seriously the players' union wants to flex its muscles.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent