New Zealand’s Test cricket team begins a fresh era under new captain Kane Williamson on Thursday, when they start a two-match series against Zimbabwe at Queens Sports Club.
New Zealand’s last Test assignment took place back in February, when former captain Brendon McCullum closed his international career with a typically buccaneering century as the Black Caps lost to Australia by seven wickets in Christchurch.
McCullum was credited with turning around New Zealand’s fortunes and image over his last three years as captain, when he led them to the final of the 50-over World Cup and adopted a popular, attacking approach to all forms of the game.
His retirement has given Williamson, 25, the opportunity to create his own legacy as New Zealand’s 29th Test captain, and his record as a batsman allied with a calm demeanour has suggested that he will be more than capable.
Last year he scored 2692 international runs across the three formats, the third highest of any player in a calendar year, and also became the sixth batsman to score 10 Test hundreds before the age of 25.
He was named as Wisden’s Leading Cricketer of the Year for his efforts.
Williamson has the benefit of beginning his tenure against Test cricket’s weakest nation, who have not played a Test match since losing 3-0 to Bangladesh in November 2014.
Nevertheless, New Zealand have not forgotten the last time that they played a Test in Zimbabwe, when the hosts threatened to chase down a target of 366 and lost by just 34 runs.
“The last time we played Test cricket in Bulawayo it was well fought, so we also expect a tough series in the Test matches this time around,” New Zealand coach Mike Hesson said.
“We respect every opposition that we play against, that’s something that we are very proud of, regardless of whether we are playing the number one team in the world or not.”
New Zealand prepared for the tour with a week-long training camp at South Africa’s High Performance Centre in Pretoria, where they were exposed to the dry mid-winter pitches that they will face both in Bulawayo and in a two-Test series against the Proteas next month.
The surface at Queens is often benign, which could present a challenge for the tourists in their bid for victory in the two Tests at the venue.
“I think the conditions will pose many challenges,” said Hesson.
“Zimbabwe’s players are obviously familiar with the nature of the surface, which I think is going to be relatively slow.
“Taking 20 wickets will be a challenge. Our bowling needs to be very disciplined.”
Zimbabwe will be without strike bowlers Tinashe Panyangara and Tendai Chatara, while legspinner Graeme Cremer will captain for the first time in a Test.