NAPIER, New Zealand - Zimbabwe will approach its one-off test against New Zealand from Thursday keenly aware that every international match it plays strengthens or loosens its foothold in world cricket after a long and sometimes bitter exile.
The years that Zimbabwe spent on the sidelines of world cricket — a consequence of dismal results and domestic political volatility — ended in August when they beat Bangladesh in a match that heralded its return to test status.
Zimbabwe then strongly pressed New Zealand in a solitary test in Bulawayo late last year, holding the upper hand until the final session when the young fast bowler Doug Bracewell bowled New Zealand to a 34-run win.
That performance and a strong hit-out in its warm-up match — a three-dayer against a composite XI containing several New Zealand test players — will send Zimbabwe into the test at McLean Park confident of a respectable display.
Coach Alan Butcher said Zimbabwe believed it could match New Zealand after its recent experience at home.
"There was no doubt New Zealand were very worried up until tea time on that last day," he said. "I hope we can visibly get them as worried again in this test.
"It's obviously going to be more difficult on their home patch but that's what I would hope for. If we do that, perhaps this time we will have more know-how to go on and win the game."
Wicketkeeper Tatenda Taibu, a relative veteran of 27 tests, said Zimbabwe was eager to re-establish itself as one of test cricket's earnest battlers.
"When one door closes another one opens," Taibu said. "Being away from test cricket, the guys are really hungry to really do well in the games we do have. Because cricket evolves, there's no doubt we'll be a little behind.
"I'm sure the more we play, we will catch up with the rest of the countries, and get back to where we were with the test game."
Zimbabwe also meets a New Zealand team in a period of transition. Its test win over Australia in Hobart in December buoyed New Zealand's spirits, but the team that will face Zimbabwe will contain several changes from that side.
New Zealand named B.J. Watling as wicketkeeper on Wednesday, ending a period of uncertainty over whether Watling — who has played six tests as a batsman — or the uncapped Kruger van Vyk would replace the dropped Reece Young.
"B.J. always had the inside running," New Zealand captain Ross Taylor said. "The way he kept (for the New Zealand XI) in Gisborne was promising and he had a good knock with the bat in the first innings.
"It was always going to be B.J. but it was nice to see him score some runs and keep pretty well.
"I guess every time you select someone there's the hope they take the spot and can fill it for years to come."
The New Zealand players have mostly been involved in a domestic Twenty20 competition since the test series against Australia, but Wright is heartened that top-order batsmen Brendon McCullum, Martin Guptill and Dean Brownlie have been in solid form.
"Those three come in to give us some sort of opportunity to cash in on ball striking," New Zealand coach John Wright said. "In the end, it's the balance of working out how to play five-day cricket, which is, you know, hitting the right shots at the right balls."
New Zealand: Ross Taylor (captain), Trent Boult, Doug Bracewell, Dean Brownlie, Martin Guptill, Chris Martin, Brendon McCullum, Tim Southee, Daniel Vettori, Kruger van Wyk, B.J. Watling, Same Wells, Kane Williamson.
Zimbabwe: Brendan Taylor (captain), Regis Chakabva, Elton Chigumbura, Graeme Cremer, Kyle Jarvis, Hamilton Masakadza, Shingirai Masakadza, Stuart Matsikenyeri, Tinotenda Mawoyo, Keegan Meth, Forster Mutizwa, Raymond Price, Tatenda Taibu, Prosper Utseya, Brian Vitori, Malcolm Waller.