South Africa and Zimbabwe are set to play each other in a Test match after more than nine years. This one-off Test will most likely be a one-sided affair, but watching the neighbouring African nations go head-to-head after so long will no doubt bring a refreshing novelty to the Test calendar. Zimbabwe, constantly bogged by financial issues and their board’s administrative ineptitude, will be playing a Test after more than ten months.
The Match and the Ground
The only Test will be played at the Harare Sports Club from August 9-13. With the first two days as part of the weekend and the anticipation of watching South Africa’s superstars in action, the crowd turn-out should be better than seen at most Tests played in Zimbabwe. Since their readmission into Test cricket in 2011, the Zimbabweans have played five matches at Harare, winning thrice and losing twice. The wins have come against Bangladesh (in 2011 and 2013) and Pakistan (in 2013, Zimbabwe’s most recent Test). Each of the last nine Tests played here – dating back to 2003-04 – have had results. South Africa have played thrice at Harare (1995-96, 1999-00 and 2001), winning on all the occasions.
The Teams and the Captains
Zimbabwe – Brendan Taylor (captain), Sikandar Raza Butt, Regis Chakabva, Tendai Chatara, Elton Chigumbura, Hamilton Masakadza, Cuthbert Musoko, Richmond Mutumbami, John Nyumbu, Tinashe Panyangara, Vusimuzi Sibanda, Donald Tiripano, Mark Vermeulen, Malcolm Waller, Sean Williams
Zimbabwe have recently opted for split captaincy – Brendan Taylor has retained the Test captaincy while Elton Chigumbura has been given charge for ODI’s. The fulcrum of the batting consists of Taylor, Hamilton Masakadza, Vusimuzi Sibanda and Sean Williams. Batsman Mark Vermeulen, who last played a Test in 2004, returns to the Test team on the back of strong domestic form. There are three potential debutants – off-spinner John Nyumbu and fast bowlers Cuthbert Musoko and Donald Tiripano. Tiripano impressed in Zimbabwe’s recent drawn ODI series with Afghanistan.
Richmond Mutumbami will be donning the gloves. Lead spinner Prosper Utseya misses out due to chicken pox while batsman Tinotenda Mawoyo and fast bowler Shingirai Masaksdza have failed to make the cut. The pace attack will be led by the very impressive right-armer Tendai Chatara. Backing him in the bowling department will be fellow paceman Tinashe Panyangara. Chigumbura is likely to play at number six or seven. Batsman Sikandar Raza has been selected even though he is still recovering from a thumb injury.
Brendan Taylor is the team’s best batsman and an admirable captain. He has not got the chance to prove his leadership skills as he might have liked due to the scarce number of Tests that Zimbabwe play. All of his four Test hundreds have come since Zimbabwe’s readmission in 2011, with three of them in winning causes at Harare. He has the ability to adapt to the situation well while batting and his presence in the middle-order is always reassuring for his team-mates as well as for the Zimbabwean supporters.
South Africa -Hashim Amla (captain), AB de Villiers (vice-capt), Kyle Abbott, Quinton de Kock, JP Duminy, Faf du Plessis, Dean Elgar, Imran Tahir, Morne Morkel, Wayne Parnell, Alviro Petersen, Vernon Philander, Dane Piedt, Dale Steyn, Stiaan van Zyl
South Africa have retained the same squad that won in Sri Lanka a couple of weeks ago. To their credit, the Proteas are not taking this fixture lightly and are expected to field a full-strength eleven. It remains to be seen whether the likes of batsman Stiaan van Zyl and off-spinner Dane Piedt – both of whom are yet to make their debuts – are given the chance to play. The current Test Championship mace holders have an excellent all-round look to the their side, with world-class batsmen in captain Hashim Amla, A.B de Villiers and Faf du Plessis and dangerous pace bowlers in Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander and Morne Morkel. Quinton de Kock has been impressive in his role as wicket-keeper so far, while Dean Elgar and J.P Duminy are reliable batsmen with the ability to bowl well as part-timers.
South Africa have not lost an away series since 2006, which is a massive achievement. New captain Amla continued that streak when he won his first Test series as captain, in Sri Lanka last month. He showed great intent in the first Test at Galle and fully backed his bowlers to win the game. His gutsy unbeaten 139 in the drawn second Test helped his side to secure a series win, and his batting will only get better as he realises the exemplary role he is expected to play as captain. Being a highly dedicated cricketer, this bearded wonder seems to be the right man to guide South Africa to further Test glory.
Head to Head and Recent Record
The two teams have contested seven Tests against each other since 1995-96. South Africa have won six of them while one match has been drawn. In Zimbabwe, four Tests have been played with three South African wins and one draw. The last time the two nations played a Test series was in 2004-05 in South Africa, when the Proteas scored two crushing innings victories en route to a 2-0 clean sweep. The last time a series was played in Zimbabwe was back in 2001, when South Africa won a two-Test series 1-0.
Form Book and Ranking
Zimbabwe last played a Test in September 2013, and it resulted in one of their most famous victories. They upset Pakistan by 24 runs to level the two-match home series 1-1. Prior to that, they had recorded another 1-1 result at home, against Bangladesh. Since their readmission in 2011, Zimbabwe have played ten Tests, winning three and losing seven and are currently ranked ninth in the Test Championship.
South Africa regained the top ranking following their 1-0 win in the recently-concluded two-Test series in Sri Lanka. This win followed the 2-1 defeat in a three-Test series at home against Australia late last season, which momentarily gave the top spot to the Aussies. The last season also saw them win 1-0 in a two-Test series at home against India, and draw 1-1 against Pakistan in a two-Test series in the UAE. They have lost only two series in the last eight years, both to Australia at home.
Players To Watch Out For
Zimbabwe’s heart-warming win against Pakistan in their most recent Test match was largely thanks to fast bowler Tendai Chatara. He scalped 5/61 in the second innings to bowl his side to an exciting win at Harare. In his four Tests so far, he has taken 15 wickets at an average of 27, eleven of which came in the series against Pakistan. He has the ability to generate good pace while keeping the batsmen guessing, and if conditions are suited to swing bowling, can be quite a handful as he mostly maintains a good line and length. If Zimbabwe are to challenge South Africa’s solid batting line-up, Chatara should be the go-to man.
Morne Morkel had an ordinary outing at home against Australia, but made amends with a haul of twelve wickets in Sri Lanka where he provided the perfect foil to the menacing Dale Steyn. He has recently reached the milestone of 200 Test wickets and his average of 30.08 does not really suggest his actual worth to the side. With his height and ability to generate bounce, he can be both a wicket-taker and a pressure-builder. Zimbabwe’s Test-starved batsmen will have to play out of their skins to counter his threat. If Steyn does not get them, Morkel will surely do.
South Africa’s victory is pretty much a foregone conclusion. The question is, how long will the Test last. The last time Zimbabwe played South Africa, they had succumbed in less than two days and less than three days in the two Tests respectively. Can they do better this time?