Zimbabwe v West Indies, 2nd Test, Bulawayo October 28, 2017

Zimbabwe seek to fix batting issues in bid to draw level

Graeme Cremer loses his stumps to Jason Holder © WICB

Big Picture

Cash isn't the only thing in short supply in Zimbabwe. During the first Test, it also seemed patience was lacking from the hosts' batting. In an effort to get ahead in the game, batsmen perished in a flurry of soft dismissals across both innings and Zimbabwe let slip the golden opportunity created by their bowlers. The batsmen were particularly generous during the afternoon denouement on day four, crumbling from a relatively healthy 219 for 4 to be 316 all out, with the tailenders bettering anything the middle order had to offer. The match was over with a day to spare, but despite the fact that Zimbabwe will be playing a four-day Test in two months' time, it wasn't a great advertisement.

The second Test presents an opportunity for Zimbabwe to get things right. Playing as little top-level cricket as they do, Zimbabwe are often a side that only really gets going a couple of games into a tour and the chastening experience of the first Test will likely spur greater resolve in what is a must-win game if they are to level the series. The first job will be to win the toss. The second will be to bat long into the second day.

That sounds a simple equation, and it is one that West Indies seem to have a greater aptitude for. The first-innings blip aside, their batsmen showed far greater tenacity in the first Test, and it tells that this West Indies squad has played three times as many Tests as Zimbabwe this year. West Indies were far more able to absorb the pressure and more conscious of the amount of time left in the game, waiting as long as necessary for a bad ball from which to score. If they can get the basics once again, they will be very hard to beat.

Zimbabwe will have the added challenge of tuning out any potential off-field distractions in the build-up to this match after it was revealed that Zimbabwe Cricket has been hit by a financial crunch which could affect salaries for all employees, including players. An internal memo informed staff that they would only be receiving half their October salaries this month, a situation ZC is hoping to rectify in November. It's no secret that Zimbabwe is dealing with one of its most serious economic crises in recent times, with a cash shortage the most recent symptom.

While it is unclear if this has contributed directly to ZC's current financial malaise, the entire country is reeling under the current crisis. ZC is no stranger to financial difficulties, but the relative stability enjoyed this year was key to the luring back of players such as Brendan Taylor and Kyle Jarvis, and this will be an unwelcome distraction. Chris Gayle's ongoing defamation case aside, West Indies have no such distractions and they will go into the second match as favourites.

Form guide

Zimbabwe LLLLL (last five matches, most recent first)
West Indies WLWLL

In the spotlight

Zimbabwe's lower middle order crumbled twice in the first Test match, with Nos. 5 to 8 making 36 runs in the first innings and 48 in the second. West Indies' combination of legspin and reverse swing did much of the damage, and with a very quick turnaround between Tests, there is little time to put things right. Zimbabwe would do well to follow the example set by the visitors, whose simplified tactics allowed them to occupy the crease and dictate the game.

Devendra Bishoo seems an unlikely spearhead for a West Indies bowling attack traditionally dominated by pace, but the last 12 months have been reasonably productive for the legspinner. Bishoo is within touching distance of 100 Test wickets, and 39 of his dismissals have come in the last year. He found conditions to his liking in the first Test with a match haul of 9 for 184, and with the second match being played at the same ground he will once again be West Indies' main bowling weapon.

Team news

Zimbabwe coach Heath Streak suggested there would be no major tactical changes for Zimbabwe, and with a variety of bowling options and seven Test centurions in their likely playing XI, the hosts are nicely balanced on paper. The conditions might dictate that Hamilton Masakadza has a little more bowling to do, but the main question for Zimbabwe lies behind the stumps. Regis Chakabva effected a couple of good stumpings in the first Test, but also dropped a catch and contributed little with the bat. Zimbabwe could bring in Peter Moor to strengthen their batting - although Moor didn't keep wicket in the A warm-up game ahead of this series. Their other less likely option would be to hand a debut to Mid West Rhinos wicketkeeper Nyasha Mayavo.

Zimbabwe (possible): 1 Hamilton Masakadza, 2 Solomon Mire, 3 Craig Ervine, 4 Brendan Taylor, 5 Sean Williams, 6 Sikandar Raza, 7 Malcolm Waller, 8 Regis Chakabva/PJ Moor (wk), 9 Graeme Cremer (capt), 10 Kyle Jarvis, 11 Chris Mpofu.

Consistency has been part of West Indies' selection policy this year, and after their victory in the first Test, there seems little reason to tinker with the playing XI aside from injury. Jermaine Blackwood had a quiet first Test, out stumped twice for single figures, but West Indies are unlikely to make any unforced changes.

West Indies (possible): 1 Kraigg Brathwaite, 2 Kieran Powell, 3 Kyle Hope, 4 Shai Hope, 5 Roston Chase, 6 Jermaine Blackwood, 7 Shane Dowrich (wk), 8 Jason Holder (capt), 9 Devendra Bishoo, 10 Kemar Roach, 11 Shannon Gabriel.

Pitch and conditions

After the first substantial rains of the season coincided with the first Test, there has been a bit of a concern in the second game too. The rain could leave a slow outfield even soggier, while the added moisture will also mean that the ball won't reverse swing quite so easily. Around this time of the year the weather always becomes a bit of a gamble, and while the forecast suggests that rain will not ruin the Test, it could play a part.

Stats and trivia

  • The team winning the toss has won four of the last five Tests played at this ground.

  • Zimbabwe won the toss 11 times in the first 12 Tests played at Queens, but have done so only four times in their 10 last games here.

  • Devendra Bishoo needs two more scalps to reach 100 Test wickets.

  • From the current team, Brendan Taylor is Zimbabwe's leading batsman at this ground, with 453 runs including a century and four fifties from the six Tests he has played here.

Quote

"We're unlikely to make unforced changes. We've got a couple of niggles that we're managing, so we'll have a final check tomorrow on one or two guys, but we'll try not to change the team too much."
Zimbabwe coach Heath Streak

Liam Brickhill is a freelance journalist based in Cape Town

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