Eddie Chikamhi, Harare Bureau
AFTER spending over a year away from the Test arena, the Zimbabwe national cricket team will tomorrow troop onto the Harare Sports Club turf with new skipper Sean Williams cherishing high hopes to wiping off demons of the past.
Zimbabwe and Sri Lanka are set to clash in a two-match Test series that begins tomorrow, with the second match set for January 27-31 at the same venue.
Everything feels new to the Chevrons, who are now under the leadership of all-rounder Williams in a revolution that has seen five uncapped players also making the final 15-member squad.
Williams took over the reins from Hamilton Masakadza. The 36-year retired from the game recently after an international career spanning 18 years and has now taken up a post in administration as the director of cricket at Zimbabwe Cricket.
His successor Williams is relishing the new challenge.
“I know it comes with a lot of responsibility,” he told our Harare Bureau yesterday.
“A lot is expected from you but I like the challenge. It’s exciting and I am looking forward to do my best in this new role.”
The Chevrons last played a Test match in November 2018 away in Bangladesh and they did well to get a result following a 1-1 a draw.
Back home, the Zimbabweans have been starved of international cricket against Full Members, especially the longer version of the game.
The Chevrons’ last Test on home soil was in 2017 when they played West Indies at Queens Sports Club in Bulawayo. Harare Sports Club, which has hosted a chain of the limited overs games, will welcome the longer version of the game for the first time since 2016.
Interestingly, the Sri Lankans were the last team to play a Test at Harare Sports Club in November 2016, winning the series 2-0. The most recent Test between the sides was a thriller in Colombo in 2017, when Sri Lanka overcame a small first-innings deficit to chase a target of 388 – the highest successful chase in Asia.
The return of the Tests has excited the Zimbabwe players and a lot of die-hard cricket fanatics. But after such a long time on the sidelines, precisely 14 months away from Test cricket, Zimbabwe, who last won a Test series in 2011 when they beat Bangladesh 1-0, will not have a big problem assuming the underdog title.
Zimbabwe Cricket have branded the series a fresh start for Zimbabwe in that it is the first piece of international action for the Chevrons ever since the International Cricket Council removed a ban that had been imposed on the country following boardroom tussles between the association’s leadership and the Sports Commission last year.
“It’s a very good finally to be back on the park and all the guys are excited about this,” said Williams.
“We are obviously looking forward to this series.
“If you check our squad there are a lot of young guys coming in and it looks like we are starting a new era with young players who have shown a lot of energy, which is good to see.
“Everyone is doing well at training. Obviously there is pressure but we are positive we will be very competitive at home. We have been giving the youngsters a lot of support and they are excited about the opportunity. They have done well to be where they are.”
The Zimbabwe selectors have named a squad comprising a strong blend of youth and experience. Apart from captain Williams, Zimbabwe will be counting on the experience of Brendan Taylor, Craig Ervine, Sikandar Raza, Kyle Jarvis and Regis Chakabva.
The selectors also included batsmen Prince Masvaure, Timycen Maruma and seamer Donald Tiripano following a fine run of form in the domestic first class, Logan Cup.
Carl Mumba, who has two Test appearances, both of them against Sri Lanka in 2016, marks his return to international cricket since a serious knee injury sustained in an ODI against the same opponents in Hambantota in 2017 sidelined him for a lengthy period.
The five uncapped players who are looking to make their Test cricket debut include opening batsmen Kevin Kasuza and Brian Mudzinganyama, Tuskers spinner Ainsley Ndlovu, Victor Nyauchi of Mountaineers and Rangers paceman Charlton Tshuma.
The big casualties from the squad picked by ZC included PJ Moor, Ryan Burl, Brian Chari, spin specialist Brandon Mavuta and Tendai Chatara, who failed to recover from a bicep injury sustained during a recent domestic match.
Since their return from Test exile in 2011, Zimbabwe have registered four victories, one draw and 19 losses. Some of their defeats, especially while touring, have been far too one-sided. That said, the team has not been without a silver lining which include wins against Bangladesh and Pakistan.
The last Test series that they played was against Bangladesh which was tied at 1-1. Interestingly, in the last Test between Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe, the former were embroiled in a fierce battle which the hosts lost by a narrow margin of four wickets.
Sri Lanka, who are coming off a 0-1 Test defeat, have announced a similar squad that competed against Pakistan in a two-match Test series. Asitha Fernando had come into the side as a replacement for Suranga Lakmal who had suffered dengue. With the pacer back to full fitness, Lakmal is back in the squad and will lead the Sri Lankan bowling attack.
Another notable point about their Test squad is is the absence of Kusal Perera who led them to a historic Test win against South Africa last year. However, his form has torpedoed since then. Sri Lanka’s chief selector Ashantha de Mel has revealed that his absence is due to the availability of all three of Angelo Mathews, Dinesh Chandimal and wicketkeeper Niroshan Dickwella, which does not leave a place for the gloveman.
“Kusal is a good player, we know that. However if Kusal was going to play in this series, he would not do the wicket-keeping. Niroshan Dickwella is going to be behind the stumps. In a situation like that, we will have to remove either Dinesh Chandimal or Angelo Mathews. However the captain and the coach wanted to play both of them, in order to stabilize the team,” de Mel said.
Sri Lanka arrived in Zimbabwe on Thursday with a strong squad that is led by Dimuth Karunaratne. The side has also been struggling for results of late and they need a turnaround of fortunes.
They welcomed back Lakmal, who missed the Test tour of Pakistan owing to a bout of dengue last month.
Despite the series defeat against Pakistan, after a 263-run loss to the hosts in Karachi, the selectors chose to persist with much of the same squad.
Asitha Fernando, who had replaced Lakmal in the squad in Pakistan but remained on the bench, was left out, as was wicket-keeper batsman Kusal Perera, the star in South Africa last year on their previous trip to the African continent.
“We have played Sri Lanka before and we know they are a very good team.
We know they have been to Pakistan last month.
“They did well there despite the result. So we have been doing our planning and we look forward to implement everything,” said Williams.
Sikandar Raza Butt, Regis Chakabva, Craig Ervine, Kyle Jarvis, Kevin Kasuza, Timycen Maruma, Prince Masvaure, Brian Mudzinganyama, Carl Mumba, Ainsley Ndlovu, Victor Nyauchi, Brendan Taylor, Donald Tiripano, Charlton Tshuma, Sean Williams (captain)
SRI LANKA SQUAD
Dimuth Karunaratne (capt), Oshada Fernando, Kusal Mendis, Angelo Mathews, Dinesh Chandimal, Lahiru Thirimanne, Dhananjaya De Silva, Niroshan Dickwella (wk), Dilruwan Perera, Lasith Embuldeniya, Lahiru Kumara, Vishwa Fernando, Kasun Rajitha, Lakshan Sandakan, Suranga Lakmal.