New Zealand won the one-off Test on their last visit to Zimbabwe in 2011 © Getty Images
New Zealand won the one-off Test on their last visit to Zimbabwe in 2011 © Getty Images

The first Test between Zimbabwe and New Zealand at Bulawayo will mark the beginning of the two-Test series between the two sides. The series will be of vital importance for both the teams. New Zealand will look to get maximum match practice ahead of their tough tours to South Africa and India. Kane Williamson will lead the side for the very first time in this format, taking over from Brendon McCullum, who retired in February. As for the hosts, this will mark their return to Test cricket, having not played in this format since past two years. Graeme Cremer will lead a young and inexperienced side, which will look to make their presence felt. FULL CRICKET SCORECARD: Zimbabwe vs New Zealand, 1st Test match

Looking at the instability in Zimbabwe cricket, what the team needed most was experience. But when the 16-man squad was announced, two noticeable omissions were at view. Vusimuzi Sibanda, one of the most experienced players, along with Elton Chigumbura, a mainstay in the limited-overs side, were left out, to everyone’s surprise.

As the squad suggests, Chamu Chibhabha is in all likeliness to open the batting for Zimbabwe alongside Brian Chari. Chari, the specialist opener, played his last international match back in 2015, and will find it challenging should he make the final XI. As for Chibhabha, who is a regular member of the limited-overs squad, this will be the first game in the Test format. So expect him to be all geared up for it. At No. 3, Hamilton Masakadza will come out with his experience of the game. Masakadza has played at No. 3 for a long time and will be the most dependable name in the entire batting line-up.

At No. 4, it can be Sikandar Raza, who earlier opened for the team. Sikandar has the ability to glue the innings together and can play the anchor role for the top and middle-order, while helping the hosts to spend more time at the crease. A real task for skipper Cremer will be to choose between Regis Chakabva, Richmond Mutumbami and Peter Moor as the wicketkeeper-batsman.

Cremer is also expected to lead the team’s spin segment. A big blow to the team will be the absence of Tinashe Panyangara due to his injury. Donald Tiripano is the probable name to open the bowling for them while the squad has Tendai Chatara.

New Zealand, under their new captain Williamson, are likely to keep the core squad undisturbed. The top-order is the nucleus of the batting, with Williamson and Martin Guptill leading the charge. But the middle-order is where the visitors may find the going tough. If Williamson refrains himself from experimenting and plays it safe, Tom Latham will be sent with Guptill to open the innings. An interesting option on the cards will be the left-handed batsman Jeet Raval, who recently scored an attractive 147 in a Plunket Shield match.

It will be a testing time for Ross Taylor, who needs to perform outstandingly to book a permanent spot in the team. Henry Nicholls will be playing at No. 5, providing support to the middle-order along with BJ Watling, team’s wicketkeeper-batsman. New Zealand will have to work hard to fill up the void created since Brendon McCullum’s retirement and that is what will be interesting to see in Williamson’s captaincy and New Zealand’s batting.

New Zealand are going to go with a strong bowling consisting Trent Boult, Tim Southee, Ish Sodhi and Mitchell Santner. The main strength of the squad remains their bowling with many options available for the captain to play around with if he wishes to. However, these four names will be the biggest of them.

It will be a battle of two new leaders, one playing to establish himself as the perfect successor while the other aiming to guide his team back to their long-lost glory.


Zimbabwe: Graeme Cremer (c), Sikandar Raza, Regis Chakabva, Brian Chari, Tendai Chatara, Chamu Chibhabha, Craig Ervine, Hamilton Masakadza, Prince Masvaure, Tino Mawoyo, Peter Moor, Richmond Mutumbami, Taurai Muzarabani, Njabulo Ncube, Donald Tiripano, Sean Williams

New Zealand: Kane Williamson (c), Tom Latham, Martin Guptill, Ross Taylor, Henry Nicholls, BJ Watling, Mitchell Santner, Neil Wagner, Tim Southee, Ish Sodhi, Trent Boult, Mark Craig, Matt Henry, Doug Bracewell, Luke Ronchi, Jeet Raval.

Time: 10:00 local | 08:00 GMT | 13:30 IST

(Paulami Chakraborty, a singer, dancer, artist, and photographer, loves the madness of cricket and writes about the game. She can be followed on Twitter at @Polotwitts)