National selector Alistair Campbell believes Zimbabwe's preparations for their return to Test cricket will stand them in good stead, but admitted that mental strength remained the team's greatest challenge. Zimbabwe are due to return to Tests with a one-off match against Bangladesh, starting on August 4.
"Obviously there will be nerves flying around on our side because everyone will be watching how we are going to perform," Campbell said. "But the players realise the expectations and they would need to give a good account of themselves. Of course, there is going to be pressure on the boys as they may push too hard to impress.
"But in any professional sport you need to apply the mental strength and be able to play under pressure. In our case we have to improve on that part. I believe the more we play at the highest level the more we will be able to improve."
Bangladesh's tour of Zimbabwe is due to start with a three-day warm-up match against a Zimbabwe XI in Harare, starting on Saturday. The match will provide valuable practice in long format cricket for Bangladesh, as they haven't have played a Test since the Old Trafford match almost 14 months ago.
While a few members of the Test squad - such as offspinner Nasir Hossain, national regular Junaid Siddique and the recalled Mohammad Ashraful - played a couple of unofficial Tests for Bangladesh A against South Africa A in April, Bangladesh's preparations have been limited to a long fitness camp and some two-day games against the Academy side before the tour. Still, captain Shakib Al Hasan believes that they go into the series as favourites.
The Zimbabweans have sought to test themselves against A sides from South Africa and Australia. While team success has been lacking, there have been good individual performances from both batsmen and bowlers and coach Alan Butcher argued that Zimbabwe would click if both groups performed well during the course of a match.
"The boys have shown improvement in their performance. Of course in the end people look at results, but we need to appreciate their efforts and see where they went wrong and work on that for future matches," he said. "On a day our batting performs well the bowling will not be very good and when our bowlers do well then our batting line up crumbles hopelessly. So we need to work on having both departments standing up strong."
Campbell reinforced Butcher's statements, saying Zimbabwe needed more exposure in order to develop as a team. He stressed, however, that there was no question of Zimbabwe's readiness to face Bangladesh.
"We are really excited that we have more commitments coming up in the next two to three months. Facing opposition that includes players like Peter Siddle and Ben Hilfenhaus should help raise our confidence," said Campbell.
"We are very ready for it because we have our experienced players like Tatenda Taibu, Vusi Sibanda, Hamilton Masakadza, Brendan Taylor and Elton Chigumbura all showing signs of good form. These are the people who should carry us through and again we have seen younger players like Brian Vitori doing well. I'm sure this young man has a lot to offer and we will consider him for Test cricket in the future.
"But there are few things that need to be ironed out to be able to play competitively at Test level. We have some of our players like Craig Ervine who has been short on runs and this is a cause for concern.
"Tino Mawoyo has also showed great promise facing some of the quality bowlers from Australia," he added. "Probably Craig and Tino would need to get more time in the middle of the crease in the warm up game against Bangladesh at the weekend."
Both players will be in the squad to play the warm-up match against the Bangladeshis. Taibu, who missed the four-day games against Australia and has been out of action for several weeks after injuring his thumb during pre-season training, has also been included, and the match will also give one final chance for a clutch of promising young seamers to push for Test selection.
"Obviously it's good that Taibu is back to full fitness and he'll be looking forward to getting a run," said Campbell. "We have deliberately rested some of the players as we feel it's an opportunity for some of the guys to make an impression before the final squad is named."