West Indies-Zimbabwe ODI Series Preview
A West Indies side low on confidence and still not back to full strength takes on a resurgent Zimbabwe side in a five-match One-Day International series which throws up a number of intriguing questions. Such as which of the two newly-appointed coaches, Ottis Gibson and Alan Butcher, will be celebrating a series win and are Zimbabwe truly back on the road towards playing Test cricket once again?
The two sides played a remarkably compelling Twenty20 International in Trinidad to open the tour which saw Zimbabwe defend their score of 105 all out by spinning the West Indies to 79 for seven in reply - no fewer than 19 of the 20 overs sent down by Zimbabwe were delivered by slow bowlers, which is perhaps a sign of things to come.
Ray Price, Prosper Utseya and Graeme Cremer will likely do the bulk of the bowling with Greg Lamb, who took a wicket with his seventh balll in international cricket, among the part-time options.
The West Indies will welcome back regular captain and opening batsman Chris Gayle and added to the squad which was beaten 4-0 in Australia are experienced batsman Shivnarine Chanderpaul, up-and-coming player Adrian Barath and left-arm spinner Sulieman Benn.
There is still no place for Darren Bravo and Ramnaresh Sarwan, who continue their comebacks from injury. Sarwan scored a century in both innings of a recent four-day game for Guyana so do not expect him to be on the sidelines for too much longer, particularly if the home side gets off to a poor start.
Both teams have been affected by issues off the field - the contract crisis in the Caribbean appears to have been sorted, for now at any rate, with many of the striking players back in action, while things are beginning to look up in Zimbabwe, with new coaching appointments and smoothly-run domestic tournaments pointing towards a bright future.
Zimbabwe's last ODI engagements saw them beaten 2-0 in South Africa but on occasion they competed strongly, Tatenda Taibu's unbeaten century in the opening game in Benoni, when they closed on 250 in reply to South Africa's 295. They were subsequently beaten by some 212 runs in the final game.
The West Indies fared little better in Australia where they were beaten 4-0 in a five-match series, although they had a limited squad to choose from with Chanderpaul, Bravo, Sarwan, Benn, Barath, Jerome Taylor, and Fidel Edwards all missing.
Both teams will also be looking to pick up some momentum as they build towards the ICC World Twenty20 but for now, attention is very firmly fixed on the 50-over game.
West Indies (first two ODIs): Chris Gayle (captain), Adrian Barath, Sulieman Benn, David Bernard, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Narsingh Deonarine, Andre Fletcher, Nikita Miller, Kieron Pollard, Denesh Ramdin, Ravi Rampaul, Kemar Roach, Darren Sammy, Dwayne Smith
Zimbabwe: Prosper Utseya (captain), Elton Chigumbura, Graeme Cremer, Charles Coventry, Kyle Jarvis, Greg Lamb, Timycen Maruma, Hamilton Masakadza, Shingirai Masakadza, Stuart Matsikenyeri, Christopher Mpofu, Ray Price, Vusi Sibanda, Tatenda Taibu, Brendan Taylor
Players to watch
Kemar Roach and Greg Lamb. Roach has been thrust into the position of leading an inexperienced bowling attack in the continued absence of Jerome Taylor and Fidel Edwards but he has already marked himself down as one to follow by causing Australian captain Ricky Ponting problems down under. Anyone who can manage that has real talent. Lamb is making his first tour as a Zimbabwe player and could have taken a wicket with his first ball in international cricket but for a drop by Cremer. He struck in his second over but thanks to his experience of playing county cricket with Hampshire, he could give Zimbabwe the sort of boost they need as they bid to regain a seat at cricket's top table.
The two sides have met 36 times in ODIs, and the West Indies hold the edge with 27 wins to Zimbabwe's eight with one no result. Zimbabwe's over the side from the Caribbean came in Harare in November 2007. Zimbabwe's 30-run win, set up by 73 from Justice Chibhaba, preceded three straight West Indian wins which sealed the series 3-1. The two sides first met in the 1983 World Cup, when the West Indies in Worcester.
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