Zimbabwe have picked two uncapped players - 21-year-old fast bowler Blessing Muzarabani and left-hand batsman Ryan Burl - in their 15-man squad for the one-off, four-day, day-night Test starting Boxing Day in South Africa.
The squad will be captained by Graeme Cremer and has no space for Sean Williams, Malcolm Waller, Michael Chinouya and Nyasha Mayavo, who were all involved in Zimbabwe's last Test series against West Indies. Instead, they will send a trimmed but promising group to South Africa, with a combination of experience in the form of Hamilton Masakadza, Brendan Taylor, Craig Ervine and Chris Mpofu, and sprinklings of youth.
Muzarabani has played five first-class matches for Zimbabwe's new provincial team Rising Stars to take 18 wickets at an average of 18 and has been included both for his potential and to gain experience on an international tour. "He is an exciting young quick. He's very tall - Curtley Ambrose tall - and we think he is someone that can be very good for us in future," Heath Streak, Zimbabwe's coach, told ESPNcricinfo.
Muzarabani will join an attack that will be led by veteran Mpofu and Kyle Jarvis, and backed up by Tendai Chatara, who has not played a Test since November 2014. Chatara struggled with several injuries in the last three years but has been active on the ODI circuit and keeping in action while Zimbabwe's domestic cricket takes a break was an important part of his inclusion.
"With it being a Test under lights, we wanted to keep options in the seam department because we've seen that the ball does a bit under lights," Streak said. "Even if he doesn't bowl long spells, we've seen him in bursts in the past. We also want to keep him involved, training and playing because he is an important part of our limited-overs squads and we have a lot of ODI cricket coming up before the World Cup Qualifiers."
In the spin department, Zimbabwe will look to captain Cremer, offspinning allrounder Sikandar Raza and left-arm spinner Tendai Chisoro, with neither Williams nor Waller in the mix. The pair was left out owing to "struggles for form" and Burl was included as batting back-up. Burl has played nine ODIs but no Tests and has a first-class average of over 40. "He has been doing quite well recently and also gives us a left-handed option," Streak said.
Zimbabwe's batting also includes plenty of choice with Solomon Mire to compete for an opening berth with Chamu Chibhabha to partner Hamilton Masakadza. A middle-order consisting of Taylor, Ervine, Peter Moor, Raza and Regis Chakabva had Streak confident that Zimbabwe can make a statement against their neighbours, who will likely be buoyed by the return of AB de Villiers and Dale Steyn.
"We want to play against the best South African side they can put out so that if we do pull off a win people won't say that we did it because they were missing some players," Streak said. "And I'm sure South Africa want to play against the best Zimbabwe side we can put up."
While some South African players, including captain Faf du Plessis and opening batsman Dean Elgar, were reluctant to play a four-day Test when the idea was first touted, Zimbabwe were unsure of their feelings about a truncated format. Streak said four-day Tests could work as day-night affairs, "if sessions are two-and-a-quarter hours long, because then you only lose half a day in total," but would like to see day Tests stay at five days.
"As things stand, we are excited to be involved and privileged to be playing South Africa over Boxing Day," Streak said, acknowledging that though Zimbabwe's finances may limit the number of Tests they play in the future, he still thought the longer format was crucial to their cricketing health. "There are lots of examples of teams placing an emphasis on short-form cricket when their resources are limited but just from my experience as a player, Tests are an important part of learning. I would like us to play between six and eight Tests a year."
Earlier this year, Zimbabwe Cricket's managing director Faisal Hasnain admitted Zimbabwe would cut down on hosting Tests because they were financially unviable but would hope to play them away from home instead.
Squad: Graeme Cremer (capt), Hamilton Masakadza, Craig Ervine, Brendan Taylor, Chamunorwa Chibhabha, Regis Chakabva, Sikandar Raza, Ryan Burl, Tendai Chatara, Blessing Muzarabani, Tendai Chisoro, Peter Moor, Solomon Mire, Kyle Jarvis, Chris Mpofu