AFTER more than a year of inactivity, the Zimbabwe cricket team finally gets down to some serious business today hoping to shake off the rust when they battle the West Indies in the first One Day International at Grenada's National Stadium. Zimbabwe, who last played an ODI in February last year against New Zealand, face a big test in the Caribbean where they are scheduled to engage the hosts in their first complete tour in almost a decade.
Alan Butcher and his men will begin the tour with three ODIs, plunge into two Tests and finish off with two Twenty20 matches.
Zimbabwe arrived in Granada on Sunday evening and they boosted their spirits with a comfortable 76-run victory over the University of West Indies Vice-Chancellor's XI in a warm-up game on Wednesday.
Assistant coach, Steve Mangongo, said the team's morale was boosted by the good batting performance in the tour match in which they scored 346 runs and then dismissed their opponents for 270.
Opening batsman Vusi Sibanda shone in that game with an unbeaten 147 runs, before retiring, while Hamilton Masakadza (56) weighed in with a half century.
"They look very keen. We have had a very good workout in terms of hitting the ball in the nets. Our batting was very good in the warm-up game.
"It was a confidence booster because no matter what kind of attack you face, reaching a score of 350 in a One Day game points to something positive," said Mangongo.
Zimbabwe were expecting their skipper Brendan Taylor to join them yesterday as the opening batsman was left behind because of a viral infection.
It was not immediately clear if Taylor will be available for this opening match but his presence in the line-up is a huge boost.
The Zimbabwe captain is coming from a fruitful stint in the Bangladesh Premier League where he averaged 39.66 and was hailed for his captaincy of Chittagong Kings.
Zimbabwe also have new faces in their squad following the inclusion of such players as Tino Mutombodzi, Tendai Chatara and Natsai M'shangwe.
Zimbabwe's batsmen will have to contend with the pace of West Indies' attack spearheaded by Tino Best, Kemar Roach and Andre Russell while another tough test should come from Narsingh Deonarine's spin attack.
Although he struggled in Australia where he took five wickets in five matches, Deonarine has a formidable record at home which includes 24 wickets in 10 ODIs at an average of 12.70 and an economy rate of 3.11.
To Zimbabwe's relief, the home team has decided to rest their skipper Darren Sammy while explosive batsman Chris Gayle asked for time off from the one-dayers.
Dwayne Bravo will lead the Calypso Kings in the first two matches.
Mangongo believes Zimbabwe should be able to stand their ground and set the tone for the tour by winning the first game.
"Mind you this tour is a full package. So we want to make a statement and prove ourselves why we are here," said Mangongo.
"Obviously, West Indies are coming from a bad outing in Australia and they see this as an opportunity to rectify their mistakes but I think it works both ways.
"We also had a bad tour the last time in New Zealand. So we are mindful that they will come at us and we are ready for the challenge.
"Our batting looks good because in ODI cricket you need to make sure that you pile up the runs. I am confident that our spinners will come to the party but I am a bit worried about the seam attack.
"The wicket here looks flat and doesn't in any way aid seamers. So whether it is Chris Mpofu, Kyle Jarvis or Natsai M'shangwe who is given the ball, they would really need to step up.
"Winning this match is of great significance because it sets the right tone for the rest of the tour."
Brendan Taylor (capt), Hamilton Masakadza, Vusi Sibanda, Tino Mawoyo, Kyle Jarvis, Tendai Chatara, Chris Mpofu, Prosper Utseya, Regis Chakabva, Malcolm Waller, Keegan Meth, Craig Ervine, Chamu Chibhabha, Tino Mutombodzi, Natsai M'shangwe
Dwayne Bravo (captain), Tino Best, Darren Bravo, Johnson Charles, Narsingh Deonarine, Sunil Narine, Veerasammy Permaul, Kieron Pollard, Kieran Powell, Denesh Ramdin, Kemar Roach, Andre Russell, Ramnaresh Sarwan