David Leggat: Cricketers slip quietly into test season

New Zealand's bowler Mitchell Santner. Photo / Getty Images
New Zealand's bowler Mitchell Santner. Photo / Getty Images

You'd be forgiven for not being aware of this, what with all the sound and fury coming out of the Russian doping scandal, and Rio's multitude of problems ahead of the Olympic Games, but New Zealand's cricketers slipped into Zimbabwe this week.

They've had a training camp in Pretoria to prepare for their two tests in Bulawayo, followed by two against South Africa. That's a world away from the biggest sports stories of the moment.

Here's another event that skimmed beneath the radar in this week of clanging Olympic alarm bells: Pakistan gave England a serious duffing at Lord's - the same Pakistan heading to New Zealand later this year for a couple of tests.

So often a shambles, Pakistan are also one of the game's greatest producers of natural talent.

One such talent is Mohammad Amir, who made his return to the test game at Lord's, the venue for his ugly fall from grace in 2010, guilty of spot fixing over bowling a couple of pre-planned no balls, one an absolute whopper.

He played in New Zealand last summer and is making his way back to his classy best.

Amir adds plenty to the Pakistan team and so does legspinner Yasir Shah, who took 10 wickets at Lord's. Shah is a bouncy, livewire character who has taken a bundle of test wickets.

Pakistan also have form for spectacular cricket victories, despite having unreliable openers and often hopeless fielders.

Whether, with the bit between their teeth, they can go on to grind England down will be a fascinating watch.

That's for later. New Zealand began their African jaunt with a three-day warm up game in Harare overnight. By happy coincidence, Zimbabwe have picked a legspinner, Graeme Cremer, as their captain for the two tests.

In scoring a century at Lord's in his first test in England, Pakistan's captain, the ageless Misbah-ul-Haq, became the oldest skipper, at 42, and the oldest batsman in 82 years to achieve that feat. Altogether, 84 per cent of his test runs have come after he turned 35.

His ability to lead a team loaded with distinctly different personalities, and who have no reputation at all for harmony, has been a remarkable achievement.

New Zealand probably can't wait for next week. They've been away from test cricket since February. These matches will be the first of 14 tests in the coming summer against five different opponents.

The Olympics run from August 5 to 21; the All Blacks are off and running in their championship from August 20 and the cricket will run through them, until August 31.

Busy days.

- NZ Herald

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