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Cricket: Kane begins new era

Kane Williamson of New Zealand. Photo / Getty Images
Kane Williamson of New Zealand. Photo / Getty Images

New Zealand embark on world cricket's hiding-to-nothing tour this week.

Their tests against Zimbabwe begin in Bulawayo on July 28 and August 6. They fly to Harare on Wednesday and start a three-day warm-up on Friday against Zimbabwe A. In the interim, they will train in Pretoria while monitoring the political situation in 92-year-old President Robert Mugabe's fiefdom.

The Black Caps are expected to win because it's 'only Zimbabwe'. If they lose, the result will morph into a monster capable of bulldozing Rio Olympic medallists into the relegation zone of the sports pages.

In one respect, this is the perfect assignment for Kane Williamson to debut as the country's 29th test captain, especially after Yorkshire revealed he was suffering from "mental fatigue". That situation required urgent diplomacy from Yorkshire coach Jason Gillespie to assure fans it was "good, honest communication" rather than anything more untoward with the New Zealand skipper facing nine months of non-stop international cricket.

Williamson would be within his rights to covet a cricketing safari as most of New Zealand's sporting attention diverts to the five-ringed Games circus across the Atlantic.

Defeats in either test at the Queens Sports Club would be a devastating start to the post-Brendon McCullum era.

The last time the venue was used for a test, in November 2011, New Zealand edged to victory by 34 runs as Zimbabwe faltered in a chase for 366. Zimbabwe, mentored by former Proteas Makhaya Ntini and Lance Klusener, have not played a test since November 2014. They are playing South Africa A to prepare for the series. The first match in Harare was drawn; the visitors are dominating the second at Bulawayo.

The New Zealanders are also scrutinising the social landscape, with Zimbabwe facing a debilitating drought and economic paralysis.

Jobs are scarce, wages are restricted and money can't be withdrawn from banks. Violence marred a strike last week. Britain's Telegraph newspaper said a warehouse was set alight on the South African border protesting against import restrictions, and bus drivers attacked police in protests against roadblock bribery.

New Zealand Cricket are monitoring South Africa A's tour and getting status updates from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the independent security consultants who did their tour reconnaissance.

The team cannot pull out solely for political reasons, but could exit if their safety and security is deemed to be threatened.

New Zealand defeated Zimbabwe 2-1 in an ODI series last year in which there were no major threats.

- Herald on Sunday

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