St George's: Shaking off rustiness and coping with Sunil Narine's bag of tricks are the key to Zimbabwe attempting an upset win over a depleted West Indies as they make a return to 50-over cricket after more than a year when the series starts at St George's on Friday. Brendon Taylor's side last played an ODI on February 9, 2012 and will look to overcome any stiffness against the home team who are coming off a 0-5 whitewash to Australia and missing two key players.
In that series over a year ago, Zimbabwe were beaten 3-0 by New Zealand. Since then, they have played three Tests (one win, three losses) and eight Twenty20 internationals (all lost). Their last international assignment was the ICC World Twenty20 in Sri Lanka where they exited in the first round, and so the issue of match form remains a concern. Their captain, Taylor, is coming off a strong Bangladesh Premier League season in which he averaged 39.66 and won admiration for his captaincy of Chittagong Kings but apart from him, the rest of the squad does not have any noticeable recent form against international players.
The tour began with a 76-run win over a University of West Indies Vice Chancellor's XI on Wednesday, in which Vusi Sibanda hit 147 off 114 balls and nine bowlers got a shot to acclimatize. Hamilton Masakadza and Regis Chakabva also got quick runs, but the middle-order struggles of Chamu Chibhabha, Craig Ervine and Malcolm Waller against a second-string bowling attack would have worried the management. The big test for a re-jigged Zimbabwean batting lineup will be coping with Narine, who has a formidable record at home (24 wickets in ten ODIs, average 12.70, economy 3.11). Narine struggled in Australia where he took five wickets in five matches at 34.80, but in spin-friendly conditions where he bossed Australia and New Zealand last year he could be a menace.
West Indies are missing two key players from the side that was hammered by Australia recently. Regular captain Darren Sammy and key batsman Chris Gayle have been rested for the first two ODIs, and the captaincy handed to Dwayne Bravo. The other noticeable changes are the recall of wicketkeeper Denesh Ramdin in place of Devon Thomas, who made just 48 runs in five ODIs in Australia. Ramdin will hope to hold his place for longer with runs and dismissals against Zimbabwe. He played an ODI in July 2012.
In Gayle's absence, the innings will be opened by Johnson Charles and Kieran Powell, the pair who did the job in the last two ODIs in Australia when Gayle was injured. The Bravo brothers will occupy two of the top five batting spots, with the other set to go to one of Narsingh Deonarine and Ramnaresh Sarwan. Sarwan's return to the ODI side resulted in consecutive 0s in Australia, but as his replacement the left-handed Deonarine made 10 and 4. Sarwan was a late inclusion in the UWI Vice Chancellor's XI for Wednesday's 50-over tour match against the Zimbabweans, and his 90 could edge out Deonarine. Narine will lead the spin attack with Tino Best, Kemar Roach and Andre Russell making up the pace quotient.
The second ODI is also at St George's on February 24. Zimbabwe will play three ODIs, two T20Is and two Tests on their first tour of the West Indies in 13 years.
West Indies: 1 Johnson Charles, 2 Kieran Powell, 3 Darren Bravo, 4 Ramnaresh Sarwan/Narsingh Deonarine, 5 Dwayne Bravo (capt), 6 Kieron Pollard, 7 Denesh Ramdin (wk), 8 Andre Russell, 9 Sunil Narine, 10 Kemar Roach, 11 Tino Best
Zimbabwe: 1 Tino Mayoyo, 2 Vusi Sibanda, 3 Brendon Taylor (capt), 4 Hamilton Masakadza, 5 Chamu Chibhabha, 6 Craig Ervine, 7 Malcolm Waller, 8 Regis Chakabva (wk), 9 Prosper Utseya, 10 Kyle Jarvis, 11 Keegan Meth