New Zealand will be looking for victory in the lone T20I before heading off to face South Africa
It took another Kane Williamson special on Friday (August 7) at the Harare Sports Club for New Zealand to clinch the One-Day International series 2-1. That the series was decided in the final match indicated the level of competitiveness – a facet that is becoming a hallmark of a young Zimbabwe side, which is moving in the right direction under Dav Whatmore, its new coach.
A successful one-off Twenty20 International against India that came on the back of a narrow four-run loss in the first ODI of the same series last month is also further cause for optimism. Now, Zimbabwe has a chance to make further gains in the shortest format on Sunday even as New Zealand hopes to end the Harare leg of its African sojourn on a winning note.
One of the biggest questions Zimbabwe was faced with after the 2015 World Cup was, how it would cope with the unavailability of Brendan Taylor, who signed a three-year deal with Nottinghamshire to effectively end his international career. But the last three months have provided a few answers, and Zimbabwe is looking in a good space.
Chamu Chibhabha and Sikandar Raza have sparkled at the top. Hamilton Masakadza, the senior pro, is capable of destroying bowling attacks on his day, Sean Williams and Craig Ervine have lent a calming influence, much like Taylor, in the middle order. To top it off, Elton Chigumbura, the captain, has made a seamless transition from a finisher to an accumulator.
The bowling fortunes have hinged around the seam bowlers, but in recent times, the spinners have increasingly had a role to play. In that sense, Graeme Cremer’s return augers well for Zimbabwe, while John Nyumbu is a reliable option.
On the other side, New Zealand doesn't have too much to worry about on the cricketing front, but will do well to keep a close eye on the list of injured players on tour that is fast increasing, the latest being Ross Taylor, who injured his groin.
The finalist of the ICC World Cup 2015 lost the first ODI, but kept its composure. The manner in which the players bounced back in the absence of key personnel such as Brendon McCullum, Tim Southee, who have been rested, and Corey Anderson and Trent Boult, recovering from injuries, indicates a strong bench strength.
Taylor’s absence due to a groin strain in the final ODI notwithstanding, the side had enough ammunition powered by Williamson, who not only continued to enhance his already towering reputation as a batsman but as captain too, and Martin Guptill.
Jimmy Neesham, returning from an injury that kept him out of the World Cup, and Grant Elliott, the man who replaced Neesham, stepped up, while there were important contributions when it mattered from Mitchell McClenaghan and Ish Sodhi, the rookie legspinner.
For New Zealand, the T20I is another opportunity to get some valuable match-time going into the two T20Is followed by three ODIs against a formidable South African side in the second leg of its Africa tour.
Zimbabwe: Elton Chigumbura (capt), Chamu Chibhabha, Craig Ervine, Sean Williams, Regis Chakabwa (wk), Hamilton Masakadza, Sikandar Raza Butt, Sean Williams, Graeme Cremer, Tinashe Panyangara, Christopher Mpofu, John Nymbu, Vusi Sibanda, Luke Jongwe, Neville Madziva.
New Zealand: Kane Williamson (capt), Grant Elliott, Martin Guptill, Tom Latham, Mitchell McClenaghan, Nathan McCullum, Adam Milne, Colin Munro, Jimmy Neesham, Luke Ronchi, Mitchell Santner, Ben Wheeler.