While the multi-pronged Olympic Games build-up has daily twists and head-scratchers, while Super Rugby gets to the semi-final stage, and while we are in the middle of winter, it is a little known fact that a NZ cricket test starts tonight. And it starts at the pretty handy time of 7:30pm too.
This is the first of seven test matches New Zealand will play over the next three and a bit months, with the steep incline of test in Zimbabwe, South Africa and India.
There may be a general feeling of “Well it’s only Zimbabwe” out there, and the fact the hosts are playing their first test match in two years does not help. But there are other things to look out for in the wider picture that mean this series is about more than players filling their boots as far as test averages are concerned.
After a decent apprenticeship Kane Williamson gets to captain the New Zealand test team for the first time. He will probably not really need to steady the ship in Bulawayo; plenty of time for that over the forthcoming months.
Williamson also gets two chances to fill a gap in his test match CV. As it stands, Zimbabwe is the only country against whom he has not scored a test century (sample size = 3 innings). Should he achieve that feat over the next fortnight he will become the youngest batsman to score a century against all the other test nations.
The Return of Ish Sodhi
New Zealand does not have a rich heritage in leg spin bowlers; which is why such players are occasionally thrown in at the deep end before they are ready for test cricket. Greg Loveridge is the obvious example here, but there are others, and that includes Ish Sodhi.
He currently has a test bowling average over 50, and hasn’t played this form of the game since that test in Sharjah played in the shadow of the passing of Phil Hughes.
But indications are that he is a much better bowler now, and will be looking to replicate his significant improvement in the shorter forms of the game here. Conditions in Bulawayo should help too.
Fast Bowlers’ Pecking Order
Tim Southee and Trent Boult did not have a particularly happy time of it in the series against Australia but, with the exception of an occasional run in the IPL, have had a few months to recharge their batteries, and will lead the attack again against Zimbabwe.
Then things get tighter. Neil Wagner took a bag of 6 against Australia in the last outing, so is surely at the head of that pack.
Doug Bracewell, when fit, was arguably the leading New Zealand bowler last summer. Here, he returns to where it all began; his five wickets on debut key to rescuing a win for New Zealand when Zimbabwe were 100 runs shy with seven wickets in hand.
And Matt Henry gets another chance to stake his claim at this level, although that may be more likely to come as cover for the new ball bowlers. Not many players get dropped after scoring 66 in their last test innings.
Enjoy. And don’t scoff at any test series that is being televised. There is no guarantee the next one will be.