South Africa, the new World number one Test side, have named an unbeaten squad for their one-off Test to be played against Zimbabwe, in Harare, starting on the 9th August.
The Proteas are fresh from their two-Test tour of Sri Lanka and are content to keep faith with the same group of players who emerged victorious from that tough encounter.
New captain Hashim Amla will be keen to build on his first series in charge and the squad will travel to Harare in buoyant fashion. Amla and his selectors could have been tempted to rest a number of key players, given the nature of the challenge ahead, but clearly feel it is more important to keep up the momentum from the Sri Lanka tour.
South Africa have not played a Test series in Zimbabwe since 2001 so this one-off Test in itself is a huge statement given the political problems of the past few years. Zimbabwe will be keen to prove itself both on and off the field in order to encourage other International sides to tour once again.
Following the one-off Test match South Africa will stay in Zimbabwe to play three ODIs against the hosts before taking part in an ODI tri-series, which will also involve Australia. The South Africa ODI squad for the Zimbabwe games will be named next week but is expected to be experimental before a strong squad is named for the tri-series. All three sides will be looking at these games as early preparation for the World Cup to be played in Australia and New Zealand in February and March next year.
Zimbabwe themselves are struggling for form having recently lost back-to-back ODIs against Afghanistan which will not have helped the morale of the side. The last ODI was particularly disappointing as they slumped to a 100-run defeat in Bulawayo which ensured the ODI series between the two sides ended 2-2. The two victories in this series for Afghanistan were only the second and third successes for the nation against a full ICC member.
They will also be keen to improve on their ICC rankings in both the Test and ODI format as they are currently under pressure from some of the emerging nations, such as Ireland, Scotland and Afghanistan. They currently sit in ninth position in the ICC Test rankings, one place above the lowest ranked side Bangladesh, and in tenth place in the ODI rankings, below Bangladesh but above Afghanistan and Ireland.
Zimbabwe will want to stay above Bangladesh in the Test rankings following the introduction by the ICC of a play-off system where the lowest ranked Test side will face the highest ranked associate side in Test cricket. Defeat for the full member in this Test would be almost unthinkable.
On the basis of their recent form Zimbabwe may well be fearful of playing the likes of South Africa and Australia in August.
Despite the loss of some South African cricketing legends recently, such as Mark Boucher, Graeme Smith and Jacques Kallis, there seems to be no suggestion that the Proteas will need much time to re-build. Although the aforementioned will be greatly missed the South African squad looks more than capable of beating any other International side and their recent elevation back to World number one at Test level proves that. They will face a stern challenge from the current ODI number one side Australia but that will be a challenge I am sure they are relishing as they bid to improve in the ODI format.
The South African Test side for the one-off Test against Zimbabwe
Hashim Amla (capt), AB de Villiers (vice-capt), Kyle Abbott, Quinton de Kock, JP Duminy, Faf du Plessis, Dean Elgar, Imran Tahir, Morne Morkel, Wayne Parnell, Alviro Petersen, Vernon Philander, Dane Piedt, Dale Steyn, Stiaan van Zyl
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