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Why the West Indies hold advantage over Zimbabwe even before a ball is bowled!

image-ldop592vWest Indies Cricket team (Source: Twitter)

Just to demonstrate how far back in time the West Indies played Zimbabwe in a Test match, perhaps it suffices to say back in those days Shai Hope was still a member of the Test unit, Kieran Powell a Test opener, and Devendra Bishoo a specialist spinner besides being a regular participant in the Test eleven. 

Furthermore, the West Indies were captained by a certain Jason Holder and Shane Dowrich's Test spot was unquestionably cemented; there were hardly any doubts about the capable keeping-batter's abilities.

On the Zimbabwean front, the last that they played the West Indies in a five-dayer, Hamilton Masakadza was still very much scoring runs up the top order, the team were captained by the very classy Graeme Cremer and the fast bowling cauldron was well served by Chris Mpofu.

But that was 2017. It was a time where batsmen of sublime nature and redoubtable skill such as Brendon Taylor were still around.

As the Caribbean side travel to the cricket-obsessed African nation, much has changed, though what hasn't besides the likes of Kraigg Brathwaite being the only unwavering constant for the visitors, is the dubious ranking of the familiar Test playing nations.

That the West Indies, a team that took the Perth Test in Australia well onto the final day just a few weeks ago and beat England at home last summer, hold a clear advantage over Zimbabwe is about as clear as the fact that Sikandar Raza is currently the best all round player the hosts have.

Though, one that sadly isn't around for the two-match series given the Sialkot-born's participation in the T20 league in Dubai, UAE.

That he'll be missed dearly by the Craig Ervine-led side is about as true as one capable of polishing off anything on the dinner table when feeling famished.

image-ldop5y9uCraig Ervine (Source: Twitter)

But what further puts the hosts on the backfoot is the non availability of Ryan Burl, another all rounder that can put Zimbabwe in command of a contest at the back of his incredible talent, the side's woes exacerbated by regular skipper Sean Williams' absence owing to a fractured finger.

That being said, there's little surprise as to why all eyes are on the returning Gary Ballance, who shall play international cricket for the first time ever for the country of his birth, instead of England, the one he exported himself to.

At 32, he's got the age and the experience of performing at the highest level with nearly 1,500 Test runs at a very healthy average touching 38. 

The series offers a huge chance to players of great skill from the Zimbabwean contingent such as Innocent Kaia to further prove their potential. Not to forget, the likes of Donald Tiripano, 26 wickets from 15 Tests, with his specialist back-of-the-hand slower delivery would like to challenge the mettle of a Windies line-up that has some forces to reckon with.

Overall, you cannot be blamed for stating it's advantage West Indies at Bulawayo as the first ball is about to be bowled in the next few hours.

Besides their in-form player and captain Kraigg Brathwaite, who finds himself on the ICC Test team of the year 2022 thanks to exceptional hundreds scored the last year, the likes of Kyle Mayers, Joshua Da Silva, Nkrumah Bonner and Roston Chase make the batting order seem a well-rounded unit.

That Holder and Blackwood are in there as well given their ability to stick around could cause the Zimbabwean bowlers some gasps and sighs.

But well and truly speaking, if there's a talent that needs to really prove himself then it's Joshua Da Silva, whose hundred in the practice game ahead of the first Test did create excitement. Having missed out from scoring runs last year, he'd feel it's his chance to perform.

image-ldop8jypJason Holder (Source: Twitter)

The longer he scores and improves his credentials as a specialist keeper batsman, the longer the Trinidadian youngster can justify his place in the unit over and above that of Shane Dowrich, whose solidity and focus with the bat is something the West Indies do miss it ought to be said.

Ditto for Chase, whose highest point in his Test career came, it could be said, in 2017, having registered modest returns with the bat in the years hence.

But all of that said, the return of Shannon Gabriel after well over a year (last Test being Nov, 2021) is about as intimidating a prospect from a Zimbabwean perspective as is the prospect of the right-arm pacer attacking in tandem with Roach at the other end.

The duo share a respectable tally of 414 Test wickets, which should give a lot of impetus to a powerful Windies bowling line up that packs further punch with the presence of Alzarri Joseph, who can put together a whack with the bat as well.

From a historical perspective, there's little doubting the Windies capability to dominate Zimbabwe, whom they beat comfortably 1-nil the last time around. 

And now with batting great Brian Lara as their mentor and Braithwaite as the ever cool head in charge of Test captaincy, it cannot be doubted that the Windies may pull off another series win here. That's unless they play a very poor brand of cricket which too becomes a fixture and sometimes, a regular one at that of the West Indian cricket.

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