File photo from a one-dayer between West Indies and Zimbabwe. (AFP)
North Sound: Having been beaten 3-0 in the preceding one-day international series, Zimbabwe's task only grows stiffer as the focus shifts to cricket's shortest format with the first Twenty20 international at North Sound on Saturday. This weekend's double-header pits the struggling tourists against the ICC World Twenty20 winners, giving West Indies even more reason to feel confident of another piece of silverware.
Zimbabwe have not played T20I cricket since the World Twenty20 back in September 2012, when in Sri Lanka they were hammered in two matches to exit the tournament that West Indies went on to win. With not many of their players having much recent exposure to the format, the odds are stacked against Brendan Taylor's team.
Zimbabwe's tour has so far resulted in 50-over defeats by 156 runs, seven wickets and five wickets. That needs no forensic evident to deduce that the batting just hasn't been sufficient enough in posting competitive totals. The best the visitors managed in the ODIs was 273 for 8 at St George's but that was overhauled by with seven wickets and an over to spare. Only four batsmen managed half-centuries in three matches, while with the ball the part-time medium pace of Hamilton Masakadza resulted in the most wickets - three. Clearly there is a lack of solidity with the bat and penetration with the ball.
Containing West Indies' big-hitting batsmen is the challenge for Zimbabwe in the North Sound double-header. Johnson Charles should slot back into the opening with Lendl Simmons, followed by Darren Bravo - Man of the Series in the ODIs - with Dwayne Bravo and Kieron Pollard bolstering the middle order. The allrounder Christopher Barnwell looks set to return to the side for the first time since 2010, offering West Indies the option of playing two spinners in Sunil Narine and Samuel Badree. Darren Sammy's return as captain extends the team's batting depth, with Denesh Ramdin and Andre Russell ahead of him.
Zimbabwe are unlikely to make many changes to the line-up, with much of the ODI team retained for the two T20Is. The top order will need to fire, especially Vusi Sibanda and Taylor. Taylor managed a best of 39 in the ODIs but is coming off a strong Bangladesh Premier League season, so the Twenty20 format may bring out the best in him.
Zimbabwe have played West Indies in Twenty20s just once, and on that occasion they won a low-scoring match by 26 runs a day over two years ago. A repeat would give Taylor's team much to smile about.
West Indies: 1 Johnson Charles, 2 Lendl Simmons, 3 Darren Bravo, 4 Dwayne Bravo, 5 Kieron Pollard, 6 Christopher Barnwell, 7 Denesh Ramdin (wk), 8 Andre Russell, 9 Darren Sammy (capt), 10 Samuel Badree, 11 Sunil Narine
Zimbabwe: 1 Hamilton Masakadza, 2 Vusi Sibanda, 3 Brendan Taylor (capt/wk), 4 Craig Ervine, 5 Regis Chakabva, 6 Malcolm Waller, 7 Chamu Chibhabha, 8 Prosper Utseya, 9 Chris Mpofu, 10 Kyle Jarvis, 11