Tough test awaits Black Caps
BLACK Caps' skipper Ross Taylor said before the trip to Zimbabwe that he wanted clean-sweep victories in all three components of the tour and, bar one freakish loss in a 50-over encounter, they achieved their goal.
But, more importantly, the African safari served as a warm-up to a two-test series against Australia next month, with games to be played in Brisbane and Hobart.
The Kiwis won the Twenty20 series 2-0, triumphed 2-1 in the one-dayers and wrapped up the one-off test match by 34 runs today (Sunday).
Undoubtedly the find of the tour was young all-rounder Doug Bracewell, who showed potential with his five-wicket bag in the test match.
The 21-year-old also picked up a three-for in one of the one-dayers and offers something different to the Kiwi bowling attack, which could struggle on the fast decks in Australia.
Swing bowler Tim Southee returns to playing action this week for the Northern Knights in the Plunket Shield and Taylor will be hoping the 22-year-old can get through a couple of rounds of domestic cricket to prove he can do battle with Australia.
"Our bowling stocks are very inexperienced," Taylor told APNZ from Zimbabwe.
"But Tim's been around for a few years now. He's had a few games at test level and showed some promise."
Evergreen seamer Chris Martin will also be on the plane to Australia and although he only took three wickets against Zimbabwe he hasn't played a lot of cricket recently and will benefit from another round of Plunket Shield action.
Taylor said the planned three-day match against a New South Wales XI in Sydney has been scrapped in favour of the Black Caps playing a round of domestic cricket from November 14-17.
That means the tour of Australia will include a four-day encounter with Australia A in Brisbane from November 24-27 ahead of the two tests.
Touring Zimbabwe was never going to be the perfect lead in to a series against an Australian side that isn't as fearsome as it was a few years ago, but still represents a tough challenge.
"Zimbabwe put us under a lot of pressure. But we know we need to raise our game a lot to put Australia under pressure in their home conditions," Taylor said.
"It was nice to give some newcomers a go and see where they're at. Some of them took their opportunity, some of them didn't."
Despite turning 34 this month, Northern Districts seamer Graeme Aldridge was given a chance to make his international debut after spending years on the fringes of the squad but failed to deliver in his appearances in the limited overs fixtures and wasn't picked for the test.
Aldridge was a questionable selection at best considering contracted player Trent Boult was left in New Zealand while other young pacemen like Adam Milne or Ben Wheeler would have been a better investment to take on tour.
Jeetan Patel is by no means a newcomer, but he may have just played his last test match for New Zealand.
Granted the pitch in Bulawayo wasn't turning square, but the fact he bowled 36 overs without taking a wicket and only produced two maidens from the test match proves he isn't a threat at international level.
His numbers continually fail to flatter and he must have been picked because there appears to be no other better option from the domestic ranks, although Canterbury leg-spinner Todd Astle is one to watch this summer.
Thankfully the wickets in Australia will require the need for only one spinner and that spot will be filled by Daniel Vettori, who proved he is as effective as ever with eight wickets from the match against Zimbabwe.
Providing they can apply themselves for long periods, New Zealand's batting line-up finally has a look of class to it.
Openers Martin Guptill and Brendon McCullum have formed a nice combination, while a middle order of Kane Williamson, Ross Taylor and Jesse Ryder - providing he can overcome a minor calf niggle in the next three weeks - has quality written all over it.
Australian-born Cantabrian Dean Brownlie, who made 63 in the first innings of the test against Zimbabwe, has the makings of a solid No 6.
Wicketkeeper batsman Rhys Young's cameo of 35 from 39 balls in the second innings of the test also showed he has the ability to hold his own, now that McCullum has decided to give up the gloves at test level.