Seldom have New Zealand started as more overwhelming favourites in a test cricket series than in Bulawayo tonight.

The first of two tests against Zimbabwe - the first to be played in the country's second city since New Zealand's visit five years ago - pits a team ranked fifth, and a competitive fifth at that, in world test standings against hosts who sit 10th and so far off the pace as to make their ranking spot redundant. will have live updates of the first test from 8pm

New Zealand have been paying lip service to Zimbabwe's fighting character and awkwardness as opponents in their own backyard. Fair enough: they have turned New Zealand over several times in one-day matches in Zimbabwe in recent years. But that should not hide the fact that nothing other than a convincing 2-0 series win will do for Kane Williamson's debut as test skipper.


Consider that New Zealand have five batsmen ranked in the world's top 50 in tests, headed by Williamson at No3, and five bowlers in the top 40. Zimbabwe have none in either category. Then again, their last tests were 20 months ago, three matches in Bangladesh. They have lost the capable Brendon Taylor to an English county career, another former captain Tatenda Taibu, who is now convenor of selectors and the great hope to revive the game and this week their best seamer, the useful Tendai Chatara to an ankle injury suffered in the one warmup game for New Zealand in Harare.

Their leading batsmen are the veteran Hamilton Masakadza, who has four centuries in 29 tests over 15 years, an indication of how few chances Zimbabwe get in the test game, and middle order lefthanders Sean Williams and Craig Ervine, both useful journeymen operators.

Where they will get their wickets from, is anyone's guess.

They are coached by former South African star Makhaya Ntini and have his old teammate, blockbusting allrounder Lance Klusener, as batting coach. If any of their combined knowledge rubs off it'll certainly help.

The expectation is of low, sluggish pitches, and New Zealand will be considering using all three spinners, Mitchell Santner, Ish Sodhi and Mark Craig, and just two frontline seamers.

If they select three, who gets the support role to Trent Boult and Tim Southee - Neil Wagner, Matt Henry or Doug Bracewell?

It should be bustling left armer Wagner, who took 16 wickets in his three tests last summer, always bowling with vigour. His last seven tests have produced 35 wickets. They are compelling numbers. New Zealand have won nine and drawn six of their 15 tests in Zimbabwe.

NZ v Zimbabwe

• Queens Club, Bulawayo, 8pm

• New Zealand: (from) Kane Williamson (c), Martin Guptill, Tom Latham, Jeet Raval, Ross Taylor, Henry Nicholls, Mitch Santner, BJ Watling, Luke Ronchi, Mark Craig, Ish Sodhi, Doug Bracewell, Tim Southee, Neil Wagner, Matt Henry, Trent Boult.

• Zimbabwe: (from) Graeme Cremer (c), Hamilton Mazakadza, Timo Mawoyo, Brian Chari, Regis Chakabva, Craig Ervine, Sean Williams, Peter Moor, Chamu Chibhabha, Michael Chinouya, Prince Masvaure, Richmond Mutumbami, Taurai Muzarabani, Njabulo Ncube, Sikander Raza, Donald Tiripano.