HARARE: Having negotiated the first hurdle in their campaign to justify Test nation status by beating Bangladesh in a one-off Test two weeks ago, Zimbabwe now face a much higher fence on Thursday – Pakistan.
The single Test match, which starts Thursday, will be followed by three ODI’s and two Twenty-20s.
Zimbabwe was granted a return to Test cricket by the ICC last year after a gap of six years. They had been obliged to field a weak side following a strike of nearly all their professionals and two consequent Test defeats by an innings and more than 200 runs.
Withdrawal from Tests was inevitable and those years have been used to rebuild. With just what success is now under the microscope with three successive tours – by Bangladesh, followed by Pakistan and in October/November New Zealand.
These opponents are considered by the ICC to be ones a nascent Zimbabwe can best cope with.
The new Zimbabweans got off to a good start two weeks ago in beating Bangladesh by 130 runs and then by 3-2 in an ODI series.
Now they are called upon to move up a big step. Pakistan will inevitably start favourites, even though there appears to be continuing discord in their camp.
Coach Waqar Younis suddenly declared his resignation last year with the Zimbabwe tour his intended last.
And Pakistan will also not have Shahid Afridi on the tour as he has said he will not work with Younis, nor with the present executive.
They were also in dressing room disorder here in 1995 when they lost to Zimbabwe by an innings, with Grant Flower, the present batting coach, scoring an undefeated 201.
However, their overall record is perhaps the one to be taken most account of. Pakistan have won eight of the 14 played, with two defeats. Their last encounter was in 1992 when Pakistan won both Tests, by 119 runs and by 10 wickets.
Earlier this year they broke even 1-1 in a West Indies series, also winning one and drawing one against New Zealand.
Pakistan have rested Umar Gull, Wahib Riaz and Abdur Rehman on this tour, bringing back Imran Farhat, Adnan Akmal and Sohail Tanveer. They introduce Ramiz Raja, Yasir Shah and Aizaz Cheema.
Zimbabwe are expecting seamer Brian Vitori back after a leg muscle strain. But he still needs to prove fitness. He had two five wicket hauls against Bangladesh and is their key strike bowler.
Misbah-ul-haq (capt), Mohammad Hafeez, Taufic Umar, Imran Farhat, Azhar Ali, Younis Khan, Asad Shafiq, Umar Akmal, Rameez Raja Jnr, Adnan Akmal (wk), Saeed Asmal, Yasir Shah, Sohail Tanveer, Ramiz Raja, Yasir Shah, Aizaz Cheema.
Zimbabwe have not yet formally released names in their squad but the team will be selected from:
Brendan Taylor (capt), Vusi Sibanda, Hamilton Masakadza, Tatenda Taibu (wk), Forbes Mtizwa, Craig Ervine, Malcolm Waller, Elton Chigumbura, Kyle Jarivis, Raymond Price, Christopher Mpofu, Prosper Utseya, Brian Vitori.