Zimbabwe's tour of Pakistan gets underway on Monday with a four-day match against a strong Patron's XI captained by Shahid Afridi. Stripped of Test status, the Zimbabwe officials had wanted to play the longer version against strong teams to get their players back in the mindset of Test cricket. However, with small boundaries on offer at the DHA Cricket Stadium - a venue where Zimbabwe played a Test in November 1993 - it is difficult to expect much defensive play, especially with the likes of Afridi and Brendan Taylor being involved.
Prosper Utseya, Zimbabwe's captain, and Robin Brown, their coach, said that the team was on the recovery path and the confidence levels were high after a couple of high-profile victories in the recent past: Zimbabwe beat Australia in the World Twenty20, and won an ODI against West Indies at home recently.
"We are young in age, not experience," Brown had said. "We played four-day games in South Africa with good results and the more cricket we play, the more experience we will gain. We're not too far away from getting back to where we were."
With wins against Australia and West Indies preceding the 100% record in South Africa, it is difficult to tag them as pushovers. A flat track with lots of cracks awaits them in the four-day match, one that will test their all-round abilities, something Brown is eager to prove to the sceptics.
However, even though Patron's XI contains only a handful of internationals, most of them have had terrific starts to the domestic season. While Afridi, Fawad Alam, Sarfraz Ahmed and Samiullah Khan have been in touring parties before, the likes of Sohail Khan, Kamran Hussain and Naumanullah will be hoping to impress the selectors further. While Naumanullah was adjudged best batsman in the recently concluded Quaid-e-Azam Trophy, Sohail has grabbed 65 wickets in nine matches during his maiden domestic season and Kamran, the 30-year-old left-arm fast-bowler, has not only managed 568 runs but also 35 wickets in the Trophy.
Zimbabwe's practice session was delayed in the morning as their luggage had not arrived yet, while some of the Patron's XI players were busy at the National Stadium, where they are participating in a high-performers camp. The action will shift to the DHA Cricket Stadium from tomorrow, and the pitch and the conditions suggest plenty of fireworks - with maybe a few broken windows of the surrounding houses - over the next four days.
Patron's XI - Shahid Afridi (capt), Khalid Latif, Nasir Jamshed, Afaq Rahim, Naumanllah, Fawad Alam, Kamran Hussain, Sarfraz Ahmed (wk), Yasir Shah, Wahab Riaz, Sohail Khan, Samiullah Khan Niazi, Rizwan Ahmed, Rauf Akbar, Khurram Manzoor
Zimbabweans - Prosper Utseya (capt), Gary Brent, Chamu Chibhabha, Elton Chigumbura, Keith Dabengwa, Timycen Maruma, Hamilton Masakadza, Stuart Matsikenyeri, Christopher Mpofu, Tawanda Mupariwa, Ray Price, Vusi Sibanda, Tatenda Taibu (wk), Brendan Taylor, Sean Williams