Prosper Utseya, the Zimbabwe captain, believes Ajantha Mendis will be a bigger threat than his Sri Lankan spin partner Muttiah Muralitharan in the five-match one-day series starting on Thursday in Harare.
"We were lucky to play Mendis in a four-day game and we have an idea of what to expect from him," Utseya said. "Murali didn't play in that warm-up game, but I don't think he's as effective as Mendis. But basically it's all about us reacting to whatever they dish out."
Voted the ICC Emerging Player of the Year for 2008, Mendis has enjoyed a rich vein of form since his debut earlier this year. He was the highest wicket-taker in both the Tests and the ODIs during Sri Lanka's previous home series against India in July-August, and was also top of the bowling charts in the T20 Canada. He took 11 wickets from three matches, more than making up for the absence of Muralitharan, who was rested for the tournament.
Though the Sri Lankan squad bears a young look - Sanath Jayasuriya and Chaminda Vaas among the notable absentees - Utseya said he was expecting a tough series. "Obviously, on paper they are better than us, but in terms of what we can do I think we have done well in our preparations and we can only expect positive results to come out of those preparations," he said. Zimbabwe have not had much action this year due to the political turmoil in the country. At home, they last played West Indies in a five-match ODI series back in December 2007, which they lost 1-3.
A poor start to 2008 saw them being blanked 5-0 in Pakistan in an ODI series. There was not-too-productive T20 Canada in October, and though they shared the honours in the tri-series in Kenya, they currently find themselves at No.11 in the ICC ODI rankings, behind Associate member Ireland.
"We haven't played much cricket this year, but from the little action we've had and the preparations, I think we are prepared for the challenge," Utseya said. "We can't be using lack of international matches as an excuse.
"We just need to stick to the basics because whenever you play against top bowlers, you have to go back to the basics. We just need to believe in ourselves and do the right things, because a good ball will trouble any batsman, including the best in the world, and that's all we need to work on."