NATIONAL cricket coach Alan Butcher has expressed concern at the lack of Test action ahead of the team's next assignment away to the West Indies for a two-Test series in February 2013.
The last Test match Zimbabwe played was against New Zealand in January.
Butcher said the team would need some tweaking to get it ready for the daunting assignment because Zimbabwe has often struggled away from home.
He is worried that while the West Indies, currently playing against Bangladesh, has been involved in a number of Test series, his charges may take time to hit the right gears for the longer version of the game.
Despite his concerns, the Englishman still hopes the team can put in solid performances and improve its away record.
"By the time we play the West Indies we would have gone for a full year without playing Test cricket and it is a difficult situation to deal with", said Butcher.
"In football terms, it's like playing five-aside for the whole year and then going to the World Cup of the 11-aside format expecting to perform well. People must understand that we need to play more cricket and play away more often so that we can gain consistency."
"Sometimes the players get unfair criticism because we have not played as much cricket as we would like to. There are many reasons for that and one of them is that we were out of the Test arena for so long and when we came back everybody had their programme and it's difficult to get accommodated."
Butcher said the aim was to improve on the team's woeful away form by doing well in the West Indies.
"We need to overcome that barrier when playing away from home. The last time we toured the West Indies we managed a T-20 win and also drew first blood in the ODI series, but eventually lost 4-1. We have won almost 50% of ODIs at home and we have won 34% of ODIs home and away which is better than Zimbabwe's all-time record of 26%.
"If you look at it, it's not only us who struggle away. It happens to England when they tour India, for instance. We still need to sort that problem out."
While he wants to see results improving, Butcher is happy with the progress he has made with Zimbabwe since he took over in 2010.
"I am pleased with the fact that we have made progress. We all want it to be quicker but at least we have moved in the right direction and we can only build on that."
In addition to the two Tests, Zimbabwe will play the West Indies in five ODIs and two T-20s in the Caribbean.
Zimbabwe would then host Bangladesh for two Tests and an ODI series, with a likely visit by Pakistan still a possibility.
Sri Lanka is also set to tour Zimbabwe next year while India is expected in July for three ODIs.
Coach rules himself out
Butcher has indicated that he would not seek reappointment when his contract expires on April 1, 2013.
Butcher told IndependentSport he would rejoin his family in the United Kingdom.
This is likely to open opportunities for batting and bowling coaches Grant Flower and Heath Streak.
"If I was single or if my family was here, I would certainly reapply for the job, but as it stands I have been away from them for three years now and that's a lot," said Butcher. "For me to try and add onto that may not be good for my family because they are not ready to come here and settle with me. So for family reasons I think I will not be able to apply for the job, but we will talk about it with my family when they come here for Christmas."
Butcher said he had enjoyed his stay and was happy with what he had achieved with the Zimbabwe cricket team. His last contribution will be in the West Indies in February.