An intriguing triumvirate of cricketing rivalries is poised to emerge during the imminent Asia Cup. While the age-old clash between India and Pakistan remains the most familiar, two additional matchups also bring a touch of fervor. The Afghanistan vs Pakistan rivalry, which even saw the return of a retired Shoaib Akhtar due to on-field clashes during the previous Asia Cup, adds to the spectacle. However, the most surprising development in recent times is the burgeoning rivalry between Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.
In some respects, one might have reasonably anticipated that the historical political tensions stemming from the birth of nations could spill over into the cricketing arena when Pakistan and Bangladesh face each other. Instead, Bangladesh finds itself entrenched in its most intense rivalry against Sri Lanka, despite the playful ‘mauka-mauka’ banter among their fans and India’s. Sri Lanka, typically regarded as a genial cricketing nation akin to New Zealand, now finds itself engaged in spirited battles with Bangladesh.
The genesis of this rivalry traces back to a light-hearted dance. When Bangladeshi left-arm spinner Nazmul Islam Abu broke into a “naagin” snake dance, little did he envision that it would evolve into the catalyst for a rivalry. What commenced during the Bangladesh Premier League in 2016, with Nazmul’s snake dance amusing his captain Darren Sammy, has transformed into something considerably more intense. In 2018, during his T20 debut against Sri Lanka on home soil, Nazmul punctuated each of his four wickets with the snake dance, even after dismissing Danushka Gunathilaka. In the ensuing match, Gunathilaka, who secured victory with two wickets in an over, responded with his interpretation of the snake dance. This seemingly innocuous exchange ignited the rivalry. The embers flared during the Nidahas Trophy in 2018 when, after a successful chase of 215, Bangladesh’s seasoned player Mushfiqur Rahim unveiled the Naagin dance, having scored an unbeaten 72 off 35 balls. The initial spark had ignited a blaze.
While most of these celebrations and tensions unfolded during bilateral series, they garnered even greater attention during significant events where the two teams engaged in closely contested matches that frequently hung in the balance. Given that the Asia Cup commenced with a one-sided match between Pakistan and Nepal, the opener between Sri Lanka and Bangladesh in Pallekele holds the promise of providing the compelling start that this tournament craves.