Regis Chakabva will lead Zimbabwe onto the ground in Townsville for his country’s first one-day international since 2014.
Much water has flown under the bridge since then-captain Elton Chigumbura led the African nation to a famous victory on that day in Harare – indeed only four players remain to take the field in Townsville – but the desire to put matters to rights will not be lost on the Australians.
The only Zimbabwean of those four players is Sikandar Raza, a top-order batsman and off-spinner not well-known to most Australians but with a growing reputation on the world stage. He comes to Australia as one of only five of his countrymen to have hit three ODI centuries in a calendar year.
Indeed, he has made these tons in the past month. Unbeaten scores of 135 and 117 against Bangladesh in Harare were followed by a glistening 115 from 95 balls as Zimbabwe failed by just 13 runs to haul in India’s total of 289 at the same venue.
36-year-old Raza and 35-year-old Sean Williams add experience to a Zimbabwean batting line-up long on promise yet short on experience and results. Williams has been a mainstay of the Zimbabwe side since making his debut in South Africa in 2005; now his role is to shepherd the new era of his country’s cricketers into the future.
Other pathways for Zimbabwe to craft a winning score remain unproven, but the motivation is there for its players to turn potential into deeds. Innocent Kaia teamed with Raza in a 192-run fifth wicket stand in making 110 to defeat Bangladesh in Harare, and Takudzwanashe Kaitano has shown glimpses of his ability.
To produce results against Australia on their patch will make cricket watchers everywhere sit up and take notice.
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As far as its bowlers are concerned, Zimbabwe will be sweating on the fitness of Blessing Muzurabani. In a side full of honest fast-mediums, it is Muzurabani who looks as though he possesses the necessary zip and craft to trouble batters at the highest level.
Richard Ngarava and Luke Jongwe have had their moments in international cricket, but one that we should be watching out for is a young Harare all-rounder by the name of Brad Evans. Possessed of good high action and admirable control, the son of former international Craig Evans took five wickets in the narrow loss to India and has also shown the necessary fight to contribute critical runs to the cause.
The Australians will head into this series treating it as the beginning of preparations for the ODI World Cup fourteen months down the track. To that end, they have picked a squad heavy in all-rounders as they look to maximise their versatility to cope with Indian conditions.
Missing Pat Cummins, given time off to ready his body for a punishing summer schedule, and Travis Head, on paternity leave, Aaron Finch leads a side that will look unfamiliar in its structure yet remains very capable.
Marnus Labuschagne has been left out for the first game, allowing Steve Smith to bat at no. 3 and wicketkeeper Alex Carey to move up to second wicket down. Four all-rounders follow as Marcus Stoinis, Mitchell Marsh, Glenn Maxwell, and Cameron Green jockey for position on the plane to the subcontinent.
The dangerous Mitchell Starc plays his 100th international as he leads the bowling attack with his able lieutenant Josh Hazlewood. With Adam Zampa handling the leg-spinning duties, Finch will feel that he has the tools to cope with any situation that is thrown in his direction.
There have been few 50-over matches in Australia in the past two Covid-ravaged years, and the links with Zimbabwe are fewer and farther between. The events of the next week will begin to address both these issues with major world tournaments to come and a summer smorgasbord waiting for fans of the green and gold.
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