Porterfield’s men look to build on gains accrued from ICC World Cup 2015 win in first of three ODIs
Zimbabwe will try to carry the confidence of having stretched Pakistan recently when it takes on Ireland in the first match of a three-match One-Day International series in Harare on Friday (October 9).
The two sides have met six times in ODIs so far, with Zimbabwe winning thrice. Their first ever encounter, in the 2007 World Cup, ended in a tie and Ireland has won twice, including the latest clash in the 2015 World Cup.
Despite going down to Pakistan, Zimbabwe will take confidence from its victory in the second game of the series. After going down by a massive 131-run margin in the first ODI, Zimbabwe made a good comeback in the second, squeezing out a five-run win on the Duckworth-Lewis Method after posting 276.
However, it failed to raise its game in the decider, losing by seven wickets after making just 161 even though the openers had given it a flying start before it was undone by the offspin of Bilal Asif.
The biggest concern for Zimbabwe will be the form of its batsmen. The host was bowled out for just 128 and 161 in two of the three games against Pakistan, failing to bat out even 40 overs on both occasions. Chamu Chibhabha, Elton Chigumbura and Richmond Mutumbami made one half-century each but there wasn't much contribution from the remaining batsmen. The selectors, who met on Thursday, have left out Hamilton Masakadza due to poor form. Masakadza made just 56 runs in four games (two Twenty20 Internationals and two ODIs) against Pakistan.
Wellington Masakadza, Hamilton’s younger brother and a left-arm spinner, has been named in the side after just 13 first-class games for Matabeleland Tuskers.
The inclusion of Craig Ervine in the 15-member squad bodes well for the side but he will be available for selection only after a late fitness test.
Zimbabwe's pace attack is led by Tinashe Panyangara but it depends on its spinners for control in the middle overs. Graeme Cremer, the legspinner, suffered an ankle injury in the second ODI against Pakistan, leaving the spin duties to Sean Williams, John Nyumbu and now Wellington. Cremer is expected to be out for a couple of weeks. “Cremer will undergo a magnetic resonance imaging scan to confirm the actual extent of the ligament,” said Anesu Mupotaringa, the Zimbabwean physiotherapist.
This will be Ireland's first ODI since the one-off game against Australia in Belfast that was hampered by rain. Ireland put up a strong fight against the world champion but went down by 23 runs on the Duckworth-Lewis Method. Prior to the match against Australia, Ireland was also in decent form in the ICC World Twenty20 Qualifier 2015, where it made the semifinal.
The batting line-up is filled with familiar and experienced names, with William Porterfield leading at the top. The bowling has been in good form, John Mooney emerging the leading wicket-taker of the ICC World T20 Qualifier 2015. George Dockrell, Andrew McBrine and Paul Stirling form the spin attack.
The good news for Ireland is that Kevin O'Brien has recovered from a hamstring injury and has been included in the squad. The allrounder last played in the World T20 Qualifier, where he was the fourth highest wicket-taker, and missed the game against Australia. Stuart Poynter, the wicketkeeper, has also been included in the only change to the squad that faced Australia.
Ireland will also have some local help, Dave Houghton, the former Zimbabwe captain, joining it as a batting consultant for the tour.
“It’s fantastic that everyone is fit and raring to go for the tour,” Porterfield said. “We know it’s going to be a good test but it’ll be one we’re well prepared for.
“We’ve been involved in some great games with Zimbabwe over the years and I’m certain this series will bring more of the same. I don’t think there’s too much between the sides and I guess the ICC rankings reflect that. We have a lot of experienced campaigners in our squad, and I’m confident we’ll do well in the games.”
The second and third ODIs will also be played in Harare, on October 11 and 13 respectively.
Zimbabwe Cricket also announced that the same 15-member squad will be used during the five ODIs and two Twenty20 Internationals against a visiting Afghanistan side.
Zimbabwe: Elton Chigumbura (capt), Sikandar Raza Butt, Brian Chari, Chamunorwa Chibhabha, Craig Ervine, Luke Jongwe, Neville Madziva, Wellington Masakadza, Tinotenda Mutombodzi, Richmond Mutumbami (wk), Taurai Muzarabani, John Nyumbu, Tinashe Panyangara, Malcolm Waller, Sean Williams.
Ireland: William Porterfield (capt), Andrew Balbirnie, George Dockrell, Ed Joyce, John Mooney, Tim Murtagh, Andrew McBrine, Kevin O'Brien, Niall O'Brien, Stuart Poynter (wk), Max Sorensen, Paul Stirling, Stuart Thompson, Gary Wilson (wk), Craig Young