Zimbabwe are one of the nine Test playing nations but, given their ongoing struggles, they may have their work cut out in this four-match ODI series against the ever-improving Afghanistan.
Ahead of the first contest, which is taking place in Bulawayo (the same venue as the following three clashes), let's take a look at how both sides are shaping up for this intriguing series.
Venue: Queens Sports Club, Bulawayo, Zimbabwe
Date: Friday, Jul 18, 2014
Start time: 9:00 a.m. local time, 07:00 a.m. GMT
Weather: Decent forecast according to bbc.co.uk/weather, with a day of unblemished sunshine peaking at 73 degrees Fahrenheit in the mid afternoon.
Live stream/TV Info: Sky Sports but only highlights (U.K.), DSTV (Zimbabwe), 1TV (Afghanistan), Star Cricket (India), ESPN Sports (Australia).
The usual financial and political issues remain not far away in the background for Zimbabwe, but ahead of this series with Afghanistan they have an even bigger problem; their last competitive fixture was on the 11 March.
But with lucrative visits from Australia and South Africa scheduled for later in the year, hopefully their players can focus on the cricket and prove that they belong at a higher level than Afghanistan.
As usual, much will depend on Brendan Taylor, who generally plays an anchor role in the batting order, as well as calling the shots behind the stumps.
Although, the experienced Elton Chigumbura and Hamilton Mazakadza should also make big contributions against a potentially weak opponent.
That said, after a disappointing showing in the T20 World Cup, Afghanistan claimed victory in the Asian Cricket Council Premier League in May and consequently bring a lot of confidence to Africa.
That title, secured at the expense of Nepal, demonstrates that the country's game is definitely on the upward curve and it will be easier to see exactly how far they've progressed after these four games.
In a team boasting a classic mix of youth and experience, teenager Usman Ghani and skipper Mohammad Nabi are the ones to watch with the bat. While, Mirwais Ashraf rarely gives anything away with the ball.
The teams have met once in an official game at the World Cup in Chittagong where Zimbabwe chased down a tricky target of 169 to win with just three balls to spare.
Form in 50 overs games (Latest Left to Right)
Zimbabwe (from): Brendan Taylor (capt and wk) Sikandar Raza Butt, Regis Chakabva , Tendai Chatara , Elton Chigumbura, Hamilton Masakadza, Shingirai Masakadza, Tinotenda Mawoyo, Natsai M'shangwe, Tinashe Panyangara, Vusimuzi Sibanda, Prosper Utseya, Brian Vitori, Malcolm Waller, Sean Williams. Donald Tiripano, John Nyumbu, Mark Vermeulen, Timycen Maruma, Richmond Mutumbami, Michael Chinouya.
Afghanistan (from): Mohammad Nabi (capt), Aftab Alam, Asghar Stanikzai, Dawlat Zadran, Gulbadin Naib, Hashmatullah Shaidi, Javed Ahmadi, Mirwais Ashraf, Nasir Jamal, Noor Ali Zadran, Rahmat Shah, Samiullah Shenwari, Shafiqullah (wk), Shapoor Zadran, Sharafuddin Ashraf, Usman Ghani
Players to Watch
Hamilton Masakadza is perhaps one of the few Zimbabwean players capable of earning an overseas contract, but a lack of consistency has held him back. Still, the 30-year-old is a powerful striker of the ball, and he finished his country's domestic season in fine form. With a high-profile upcoming schedule, the opening batsman could increase his stock with some strong performances.
Keep an eye on 19-year-old Sharafuddin Ashraf. The left-arm spinner only made his List-A debut against Zimbabwe A last week but returned incredible figures of six for 29. Was it a fluke or is he a player of some potential? Maybe we will find out over the course of this series although his numbers in U19 cricket suggest he has some talent.
All the ingredients are present to suggest an Afghanistan upset at some point in this series. And given the visitors have had a couple of decent warm-up games, they may well give the Zimbabweans a rude awakening here.
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