By Alvin Madzivanzira
ZIMBABWE senior men’s cricket team, the Chevrons, go into battle on Tuesday when they play Afghanistan in first of the two Test match series.
The matches are scheduled for March 2-6 and 10-14 at Zayed Cricket Stadium in Abu Dhabi.
The two nations meet in a neutral venue in Dubai as Afghanistan’s adopted home.
The inaugural Test series between the two nations has the attention of the cricket world.
Afghanistan are a rising cricket nation who have, on numerous occasions, upset Zimbabwe at home.
Zimbabwe are the fifth nation to play Afghanistan in the longer version of the game. The hosts have played Bangladesh, India, Ireland and West Indies. Of the four opponents faced by Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Ireland lost to the rising nation.
Afghanistan were granted Test status in 2017 by the International Cricket Council (ICC).
The inaugural Test series between the two bridges a three-month gap when Zimbabwe last played Pakistan in Harare last November. There was little action for the national team though there was domestic league action.
However, Zimbabwe last played the longer version of the game in February 2020. They hosted Bangladesh and lost to the visitors in the one-off Test match series.
The Chevrons have experienced little action which has worked against their progress.
Gauging the team becomes difficult. All the gains from the last Test match have been nullified by lack of game time.
About six players facing Afghanistan last played in the match against Bangladesh in Harare. Sikandar Raza Butt, Regis Chakabva, Kevin Kasuza, Prince Masvaure, Victor Nyauchi and Donald Tiripano were part of the Chevrons squad that played the Bangladesh Tigers last year.
Sean Williams captains the Chevrons against the bogey side.
For Zimbabwe, the match is crucial as they have registered a series of defeats in two versions of the game.
The Test series might be Zimbabwe’s chance to redeem lost pride against the Associate side. Zimbabwe have won one Twenty20 cricket series against Afghanistan in the nine matches they have played.
If statistics are anything to go by, the odds are against Zimbabwe.
However, Zimbabwe have played more Test matches than the hosts as they are relatively new to the longer version of the game.
Sikandar Raza Butt, Chakabva and Williams are some of the pillars in the Zimbabwean side counting on their experience in the game.
Wesley Madhevere makes a Test debut after impressing at the U19 cricket World Cup.
The young man made an impressive outing against England where he claimed four wickets. Madhevere is also good with the bat and could be one of the effective all-rounders in the making for the Chevrons.
Tarisai Musakanda and Ryan Burl last played the longer version of the game in 2017.
There are a number of players in the infirmary who might have provided more options for selection in Tendai Chatara and Chamu Chibhabha who are nursing right arm injuries.
After the two tests, Milton Shumba, Faraz Akram and Tinashe Kamunhukamwe will join the team for the limited overs.
Zimbabwe have to worry about 22-year-old star spinner Rashid Khan who is part of the Afghanistan squad who may decimate the Chevrons’ top order.
Khan, who also plays for Lahore Qalanders in Pakistan Super League, will be one of the Afghanistan bowling attack.
There are numerous new faces in the team who might surprise the visitors in Munir Ahmad Kakar, Shahidullah Kamal, Bahir Shah Mohboob, Fazal Haq Farooqi, Abdul Malik, Saleem Safi and Zia Ur Rahman Akbar.
After the two tests, Zimbabwe and Afghanistan square-off in the limited overs. They will play in three T20 matches scheduled for March 17, 19 and 20. After the tour of Afghanistan, Zimbabwe will play Ireland later this year in August.
Zimbabwe have little action in the game and there is need for more fixtures to be able to gauge the progress of the team. The domestic league has not been competitive and the COVID-19 pandemic put several tours into disarray. However, there is a ray of hope from the secure bio-bubble concept and rigorous COVID-19 testing done before each tour.