Anticipation hangs heavy

Brendan Taylor was lbw for 10 to Ziaur Rahman Associated Press

For Bangladesh, tonight will be like the one before Eid. They know that tomorrow could bring great reward

But the hours before a day that holds so much promise area always anxious. Sleep is elusive. The butterflies don't allow it and if they take a small break, there is always the knot in the stomach to consider. Thoughts multiply. 'What ifs' sprout from nowhere.

What if Zimbabwe's last six batsmen survive 90 overs? What if Robiul Islam doesn't get his groove back? What if all the progress made in the last four days unravels?

Mushfiqur Rahim, the captain, is unlikely to be the only one saddled with these questions. Everyone from Shane Jurgensen to Jahurul Islam will ponder whether Bangladesh can finish the job and all are likely to find expectation can be a cruel taskmaster.

Anticipation is to the teams at the unenviable end of the Test rankings what pressure is to those at the top. It petrifies them. In fear of doing the wrong thing, they cannot do the right thing even when it is obvious. That is how both Bangladesh and Zimbabwe operate. Theirs are contests of missed chances, of drifting passages of play, of waiting for patience to run out, of desperation leading to mistakes and of hoping for a sprinkle of luck.

Bangladesh have to bank on much more than that. As they aim for a first Test win in Zimbabwe, they will have to take control of the match.

That could be their biggest challenge simply because they're not used to it. It was evident when they were batting, when it looked as though they would prefer to be bowled out than make the first move by declaring.

It transpired that they were just waiting to ensure safety by achieving their goal of a lead of 400 even though history did not require that many runs. Even before considering other precedents at the ground, Zimbabwe's highest successful chase is a measly 162.

With Zimbabwe's top-order virtually guaranteeing a passage into their middle, Bangladesh will probably not rue the decision to keep batting. The overs and balls they blocked out dutifully until an hour into the afternoon session will only have cost them time and as it stands, they seem to have enough.

Their focus will be on tactics and Mushfiqur will need to be at his most astute. Already he has overseen some real progress, such as on the Sri Lanka tour, and individually he has excelled. With the responsibility of leading, his batting has blossomed: his average in the ten Tests he has captained sits as 44.33, including the country's only double hundred. He also has a higher average than any other Bangladesh captain.

But he has been criticised for some of his management of bowlers, particularly his over-reliance on left-arm spin. Mushfiqur will have to juggle what have proved incisive spells by Shakib Al Hasan with equally promising ones from Sohag Gazi.

He will have to hope Robiul gets in enough rest and recovery to bowl better than he did up front today. He will have to remember that he has other seamers as well. Sajidul Islam was woefully underused and bowled only two overs, while Ziaur Rahman has proved that he too can be relied on. He will also have to encourage his fielders to brush up on their catching skills because when (and it is when rather than if) Zimbabwe offer chances, they will have to be at their sharpest to take them.

That kind of in-the-moment anxiety is what turns both teams into proverbial deer in the headlights. They are entirely capable of pulling off moments of brilliance but they are also more likely to spill chances they should collect by the bucketful. Only confidence can change that.

Sporting clich s tell us that self-belief is only developed through winning, or least giving a reasonable account of oneself. Bangladesh will improve their stocks in that regard enormously if they go on to win.

Zimbabwe batsmen also don't handle pressure well. When they played New Zealand in Bulawayo in late 2011, they put themselves in prime position to chase down to 366 thanks to an aggressive century from Brendan Taylor. From 287 for 4, they crashed to 331 all out.

The new ball, and they will have one of those to face tomorrow too, accounted for some of their dismissals but it was anxiety that took the other wickets. Being in the unfamiliar driving seat without much steering know-how meant Zimbabwe stalled. They will not want to repeat that. And neither will Bangladesh.

That could make for an intriguing final day in what has been a competitively billed contest, which petered out a little one-sidedly in the first match and for parts of the second. Tonight it hangs in a delicate balance. For both sides, tomorrow holds as much potential as it does disappointment and the worry of which it may bring will hang heavy in both camps. Whoever can shed that fear first will probably win the match.