Kiwi media dons the tin helmets
When New Zealand travelled to Bangladesh last year, just two home journalists made the trip to cover the tour. Despite Zimbabwe being just one place higher than Bangladesh in the ICC Test Championship and it being a considerably more expensive place to tour, the number of New Zealand journalists in Zimbabwe is, prima facie, quite remarkable.
According to www.stuff.co.nz, the journalists sent to Zimbabwe by New Zealand media organisations include a "Pacific correspondent" and a "seasoned war journalist". While it may seem a bit extravagant when the only person firing bullets will be the New Zealand paceman Shane Bond, the media contingent on the ground reflects the manner in which the politicians in New Zealand have built up the tour.
The non-cricketing media brigade did not take long to dangle the political bait but the players' uniform response - "we are only here to play cricket" - was as emphatic as the question irresponsible. This is, after all, a cricket tour.
The Test series starts tomorrow at the Harare Sports Club, which is expected to provide an excellent surface for batting. With the firepower it has in its line-up, New Zealand should win the series without too much trouble and, although it is winter in Zimbabwe, the sun and mid-twenties temperatures forecast for the opening days of the first Test mean the weather is unlikely be a concern.
Zimbabwe has a lot to prove both to themselves and the cricketing world but it hard to see that happening quickly when you consider India are their next opponents. Eight of the side that played the two Tests in South Africa in March return; those missing being opening batsmen Stuart Matsikenyeri and Barney Rogers and the promising allrounder Elton Chigumbura.
Despite the players and administrators' row ending, including the significant appointment of Heath Streak as the vice-captain for this series, the only additional players of significant experience Zimbabwe have been able to call on are the batsmen Stuart Carlisle and Craig Wishart.
Carlisle is coming off an unbeaten 103 in his last Test but that innings was way back on March 1, 2004. The other four players joining the squad have just six caps between them and they all belong to Blessing Mahwire who has an uninspiring bowling record of six wickets at 82 in his previous Test appearances. In contrast, New Zealand has the luxury of recalling Bond, Scott Styris and Daniel Vettori and denying Jacob Oram even the drinks-carrying job!
If Zimbabwe is to taste success in the next month it may be more likely to come during the one-day tournament with New Zealand and India where Streak and Andy Blignaut should flex some muscle. Streak has a soft spot for New Zealand as his batting average of 198 is his last four one-day digs against New Zealand indicate while Blignaut is a power hitter who could further expose New Zealand's death-bowling frailties.
As expected, Bond has been recalled to start his first Test since May 2003 although John Bracewell, the coach, told The New Zealand Herald that an allrounder was needed to ensure Bond was not over bowled and that there was "even more need to make sure that we have all the options covered,".
The upshot is that Styris - with 30 wickets at 23.80 for Middlesex in the County Championship this year- has been included at the expense of Oram, who is not yet fit enough to bowl.
As New Zealand will have a bowling quintet of Bond, two other pacemen to be chosen from James Franklin, Chris Martin and Kyle Mills, the left-arm spin of Vettori and Nathan Astle's medium-pacers, it is hard to see why further bowling cover is needed for this match.
With an batting average of 54.60 under Bracewell and a brilliant century against Australia at the Gabba two Tests back, Oram's omission as a batsman is a major surprise and begs the question how many other countries could leave such a performer out of its top six?
The other curious selection is the choice of Lou Vincent at opener in the place of Craig Cumming. Vincent was dropped after opening the innings in Bracewell's first two Tests as coach against Pakistan in 2003 and recalled to the side last season as a middle-order batsman. Such has been Vincent's chequered run at the top of the order and his recent success further down, it is mind boggling to think that he has now gone the full circle.
What it does show is influence of the captain Stephen Fleming, who wants to bat at No 4, and the uncertainty of the New Zealand selectors around who the opening pair will be in the future. James Marshall and Vincent will be the third partnership tried in the last five Tests.
Andrew McLean is a presenter of The Cricket Club, New Zealand's only national radio cricket show