BULAWAYO: If South Africa thought they could simply hop the border and have their way in Zimbabwe, the one-off Test would have changed that. Although they won with a day to spare, they were made to work for their victory and they expect the toil to get tougher in the ODIs, especially based on recent history. Two years ago, a South African second-string side visited Zimbabwe for an unofficial T20 tri-series, which also included Bangladesh and was beaten by both so-called minnows. Zimbabwe defeated them twice. That visit was part of South Africa’s preparation for the 2012 World T20; this one kicks off their plans for next year’s fifty-over World Cup and they will not want to repeat the results.
At least South Africa’s elephant has left the room. Jacques Kallis’ retirement from ODI cricket ended a period of uncertainty for their structures in which they struggled to find room for him almost as much as he battled with own form. Now that the line has been drawn under the need to accommodate him, South Africa can focus on future plans. In this series, they are doing that by resting the frontline fast bowlers to assess which of the fringe ones could book a World Cup spot.
Zimbabwe’s planning is also in full swing with the appointment of a new ODI captain. Elton Chigumbura has been re-entrusted with the job he did at the 2011 World Cup and will want to improve on the record he had there. Sorting out a middle-order combination will be his most pressing task but a few upset wins for good measure will not go unnoticed either.
In the spotlight: Although he is only 28, Elton Chigumbura has been an international cricketer for a decade so is not short on experience, but will need to call on all of it as he begins a second stint as captain. The responsibility on the allrounder has increased significantly as it will be up to him not just to lead but to produce in all departments. He will have to play the role of batting finisher and strike bowler. Chigumbura also has a personal milestone to aim for. He is five away from 100 ODI wickets.
A South African attack without Dale Steyn is like a braai without the boerewors but a South African attack without Steyn, Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander is like a braai with just the salad - it could be limp but it may be healthy. The trio needed some rest after playing in almost every match of the last month so the focus will be on South Africa’s reserve fast bowlers. Wayne Parnell is the most experienced and will hope to find consistency while Kyle Abbott and Marchant de Lange will look to build on their promising starts to international cricket.
Elton Chigumbura could start his second stint in charge buoyed by the news of Brian Vitori’s return. The left-armer was ruled out of the one-off Test against South Africa with an ankle niggle but should be fit for the ODIs. Similarly, Sikandar Raza’s broken thumb may have healed sufficiently for him to slot in at the top. Zimbabwe could face a conundrum in bowling as they decide how many spinners to make room for and whether to give 19-year-old seam allrounder Luke Jongwe an ODI debut.
With Beuran Hendricks ruled out of the series with a back injury, South Africa’s choices of which fast bowlers to use are narrowed to four. Parnell, Abbott, de Lange and uncapped Mthokozisi Shezi will compete for three places with Shezi likely to be made to wait to make his debut. The same could go for Rilee Rossouw, who will likely carry drinks while Faf du Plessis bats in the position left vacant by Kallis.
Zimbabwe: Vusi Sibanda, Sikandar Raza, Hamilton Masakadza, Brendan Taylor (wk), Sean Williams, Elton Chigumbura (capt), Timycen Maruma, Shingi Masakadaza/Luke Jongwe, John Nyumbu/Prosper Utseya, Tinashe Panyangara, Brian Vitori.
South Africa: Hashim Amla, Quinton de Kock (wk), Faf du Plessis, JP Duminy, AB de Villiers (capt), David Miller, Ryan McLaren, Wayne Parnell, Kyle Abbott, Marchant de Lange, Imran Tahir.
COLOMBO: Pakistan continued their impressive tour of Sri Lanka by comprehensively beating the hosts ...