Graeme Smith has said that his South African team will not be taking Zimbabwe lightly when their two-Test series gets underway at Cape Town tomorrow (March 4). The Zimbabweans have been bolstered by the return of Heath Streak and Andy Blignaut and Smith wants his side to build some momentum ahead of their tour to West Indies, which begins at the end of the month.
"You could see the difference Heath made to the Zimbabwe team in the last Standard Bank match on Wednesday," Smith told the Sapa press agency. "And Andy Blignaut is back in the squad too. That will lift the Zimbabwe team's spirits as well as their game. It's crucial that we get into good nick ahead of the West Indies tour. We will approach this series as we would a series against any other country. We want to be clinical and ruthless, and dominate from the start."
But while Zimbabwe are looking stronger with the return of their two allrounders, the South Africans also welcome back the players who missed out on various parts of the one-day series. Jacques Kallis will resume his place in the top order having sat out all three matches while Shaun Pollock, Makhaya Ntini and Smith himself are returning after breaks of various lengths.
Kallis will be looking to continue his amazing run of form, after making 625 runs in the Test series against England. That included 149 at Newlands, his home ground, where Kallis has an unquenchable thirst for runs - 956 in nine matches. He will have a great opportunity to pass the 1000-run mark, but more significantly is just 167 runs short of becoming the second South African, after Gary Kirsten, to join the 7000 Test runs club. Ntini is also approaching a landmark; he requires one more wicket to join Allan Donald and Pollock as South Africans with over 200 Test wickets.
Pollock and Ntini will form a three-pronged pace attack with the returning Charl Langeveldt, who will make his second Test appearance on the same ground as his first after taking 5 for 46 against England at the start of January. South Africa suddenly have some riches in the quick bowling department and have been able to omit the fiery Andre Nel, who took a career best 6 for 81 in his last Test appearance against England at Centurion Park.
AB de Villiers looks likely to continue opening the batting with Herschelle Gibbs slotting into the middle-order after his recent good run in one-day cricket, where he has made 490 runs in nine innings since moving down to No. 4 and No. 5. Ashwell Prince will get his latest stab at Test cricket at No. 6 as South Africa try to settle on their best batting order.
South Africa are overwhelming favourites and they will be looking forward to fine-tuning their game before the Caribbean, but at least the return of Streak and Blignaut - which boosts the Zimbabwean's morale as much as their ability - might mean that it won't be all one-way traffic.
South Africa team 1 Graeme Smith (capt) 2 AB de Villers 3 Jacques Rudolph 4 Jacques Kallis 5 Herschelle Gibbs 6 Ashwell Prince 7 Mark Boucher (wk) 8 Shaun Pollock 9 Nicky Boje 10 Makhaya Ntini 11 Charl Langeveldt.
Zimbabwe team (possible) 1 Stuart Matsikenyeri 2 Barney Rogers 3 Hamilton Masakadza 4 Dion Ebrahim 5 Sean Williams 6 Tatenda Taibu (capt and wk) 7 Heath Streak 8 Andy Blignaut 9 Elton Chigumbura 10 Christopher Mpofu 11 Douglas Hondo.