Darlington Majonga/Enock Muchinjo
STAR all-rounder Heath Streak leads a quintet of former rebel players hard-pressed to prove they were really missed when Zimbabwe square off against New Zealand in the first
of a two-Test series at Harare Sports Club this Sunday.
Zimbabwe take to the field with their strongest team for the first time in 18 months, bolstered by the return of Andy Blignaut, Stuart Carlisle and Craig Wishart, among the 15 white players who walked out on national duty to protest the dismissal of Streak as captain last April.
The Black Caps might not be in the right shape after enduring pressure back home to abandon on political grounds the Zimbabwe tour, which will include a triangular one-day international series also involving India.
The two Tests present the former rebel players with a good opportunity to prove they are what Zimbabwe were missing over the past season, although Streak and Blignaut were rushed to a tour of South Africa soon after signing a truce.
Skipper Tatenda Taibu will be happy to lead a blend of youth and experience after a frustrating year during which he had to shepherd youngsters thrown into the deep end following the player dissension.
The 22-year-old Taibu believes this could be his time to taste a Test victory after enduring a harrowing spell during which Zimbabwe’s youthful team lost to Bangladesh and South Africa.
Besides Taibu, the other youngsters to survive from the previous Test squad are Hamilton Masakadza, Christopher Mpofu, Graeme Cremer and Brendan Taylor. Dion Ebrahim, who ceded the vice-captaincy to Streak, has also retained his place in the team.
However, the absence of seamers Douglas Hondo and Tinashe Panyangara who have failed to fully recover from stress fractures suffered in February has created an opportunity for debutante Anthony Ireland and returnee Blessing Mahwire, who underwent ICC scrutiny for his bowling action in January.
Zimbabwe will have two other debutantes in all-rounder Keith Dabengwa and batsman/wicketkeeper Neil Ferreira, who was also one of the rebels before going to play club cricket in England.
Test specialist Trevor Gripper did not make the side, as well as Stuart Matsikenyeri and Barney Rogers, who were the openers in Zimbabwe’s last two Test series.
The New Zealanders, returning to Zimbabwe for the first time in four years, however remain favourites to take the series and have brought their best side for the showcase.
The Black Caps arrived in the country on Tuesday eager to unleash paceman Shane Bond on the Zimbabweans after an injury-forced two-year absence.
With inspirational skipper Stephen Fleming in charge, New Zealand troop into the field boasting the experience of Daniel Vettori and Nathan Astle.