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Bangladesh-Sri Lanka rivalry in Cricket: where it all started?

In almost every sports arena, we can see some of the greatest rivalries between nations and fan bases. For Cricket, this place was kept for a few countries, like England and Australia has been battling over an iconic small cup filled with ashes for years. Every year, cricket fans get excited when these two century-old cricketing nations organize ‘The Ashes’ series. The Pakistan-India feud is another notable one, thanks to their geo-political background. However, according to the fans, this competition is no longer as enjoyable as before since these two sides have a friendly approach in front of the camera in the contemporary era. 


Maybe to fill up this gap, friction between Bangladesh and Sri Lanka has emerged gravely in recent years. In this article, let’s rewind the memories and observe how this epic battle between two South Asian nations was initiated and how it’s all going on. 


‘Nagin’ dance: Where it all began

Nazmul Islam unveils a new wicket celebration, Bangladesh v Sri Lanka, 1st T20I, Mirpur, February 15, 2018
Opu celebrating after taking a wicket. Photo: AFP.

Nazmul Islam Opu appeared in the red and green t-shirt for a very limited time in 2018. He took attention by his unique wicket celebration which is branded as ‘Nagin Dance’ on the media and among social media users since he featured it during a match of the Bangladesh Premier League (BPL) in 2016. while he was playing for Rajshahi Kings. Rajshahi skipper Dareen Sami also joined him at that moment – which he used as a trademark celebration after taking a wicket. Opu started his international career on 15 February 2018 while his side was playing a home T20I series against Sri Lanka. 


Opu introduced this celebration in the international arena with that series. Although Lankans saw this celebration more like a humiliation and as a consequence, they started to react to the situation. Dhanushka Gunathilaka gave a Nagin dance after taking a wicket in the second T20, marking a gesture of revenge towards Opu. White-washing the host side by 2-0, Sri Lankans observed the event with a ‘Nagin Dance’ igniting another unique rivalry in the history of Cricket. 


Nidahas Trophy

Mahmudullah lets out his emotions after scoring the winning runs, Sri Lanka v Bangladesh, 6th match, Colombo, March 16, 2018


Between 6 and 18  March 2018, the Sri Lankan Cricket Board organized a tri-nation tournament inviting Bangladesh and India to celebrate their 70th independence day. This series was a memorable event in the history of Bangladeshi cricket for the craze that spread among these two nations.

In the third match of the series, Sri Lankans accumulated 214 runs batting first. For Bangladesh, this was a huge target. However, the opening batters smashed the host side from the beginning – Tamim scored 47 off 29 balls while Liton added another 43 runs off 19 balls before getting out. This partnership gave Bangladesh a winning base which was later accomplished by Mushfiqur Rahim. Mr Dependable hammered Lankan bowlers and gathered a match-winning 72 runs off just 35 balls. After taking the team to the final destination, Mushi celebrated the achievement with a Nagin Dance towards the losing side which added fuel to the fire. 

Mushfiqur Rahim is stoked upon hitting the winning runs, Bangladesh v Sri Lanka, Nidahas T20I Tri-series, Colombo, March 10, 2018

But this wasn’t enough drama for that series. Bangladesh faced the Lankans once again in the last game of the group stage. As both of the teams won 1 match before that match and Bangladesh had only one match against India after that event, the game turned out to be an unofficial semi-final match. However, that match just intensified the tension between the two cricketing fraternities.

Bangladesh rejoice following their win

In a chase of 160 runs in 20 overs, the Tigers needed 12 runs in the last 6 balls. Mustafizur Rahman was at the batting end while Mahmudullah Riyad was on the other side of the crease. Isuru Udana bowled a short delivery in the first ball –  the Fizz failed to pull it and Bangladesh lost another delivery. Udana went for another short ball – the Cutter Master missed that one but ran to give Mahmudullah the strike. As Mustafiz failed to make it to the bowler’s end, Bangladesh were 148/8 then. A feud between both sides erupted as Bangladesh was applying for a wide ball. The umpires called that a fare delivery and some of the players were seen to engage in a heated argument. Meanwhile, Shakib was asking Mahmuduallah and Rubal to stop the game and to return. However, the Silent Killer handled the situation quite smartly. As the game started once again, Mahmudullah struck a boundary over the cover in a wider delivery on the third delivery. Bangladesh needed  8 runs then off the last 3 balls. This time a lower full toss was bowled to Riyad and he accumulated 2 runs from that. Finally, he sealed the victory with his iconic flick shot that went over the backward square leg for a 6. Almost the entire staff from the winning side went out to the field with the Nagin dance and that celebration made the cold relationship even worse.


Lanka’s Nagin Dance in the Asia Cup

Story of 'Naagin dance': The mocking jibe during Bangladesh vs Sri Lanka  match | Cricket - Hindustan Times


After the drama of the 2018 Nidahas Trophy, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka faced each other a few more times in the form of bilateral series and international events. Although the trend of Nagin Dance seemed to be over, the rivalry was still susceptible. Multiple Facebook fan pages and groups started trolling each other over the simplest matters which hasn’t over to date. 


During the event of the 2022 T20 Asia Cup, Sri Lanka beat Bangladesh by 2 wickets in a thrilling 184 runs-chase with 4 balls to spare. The Lankans were qualified for the semis with that victory while a nightmare ended for the Tigers as they not only failed to secure the semis but also couldn’t manage to win a single game during that edition. As the winning side was celebrating, a wild scene became viral where Lankan bowler Chamika Karunaratne can be found aggressively showing the Nagin Dance towards the heartbroken Bangladesh. 



What do I with these now, Angelo Mathews seems to be asking to whoever's listening, Bangladesh vs Sri Lanka, World Cup, Delhi, November 6, 2023

For Bangladesh, the last edition of the ICC ODI World Cup was no less than a nightmare. Although the Tigers got a flying start after beating the Afghans by 7 wickets in the first encounter of the group stage, they were aching for another win for the next 6 matches. Even Netherlands gave the team a bitter shameful experience after claiming a victory with a margin of a staggering 87 runs. 

On the other side, the Lankan Lions were also at the bottom portion of the table with only 2 wins against two neighbouring nations – Netherlands and England. As a consequence, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka were in a race to qualify for the 2025 Champions Trophy in their second-last game in the CWC. Getting the opportunity to choose between bowl and bat from the toss, Shanto sends the Lankans to set a target in Delhi. Due to intense air pollution, it was feared that the match could be shortened. However, it didn’t happen and Lankans were on track to set a convincing target. When Sadeera Samarawikrama departed after scoring 41 runs the match took a different turn. 

The man next in the line – Angelo Mathews was taking a bit more time than usual. Subsequently, when he was finally available at the crease, he was tightening his helmet to take the guard. The broadcast timer showed that he had already taken around 1 minute 54 seconds. Again, his strap broke when he was trying to adjust it and by then the 2-minute time-frame that is mentioned in ICC’s rulebook to take the guard passed. While Angelo asked his teammates for a replacement, Shakib was having a discussion with the on-field umpire Marais Erasmus. All of a sudden, he formally applied for a time-out since 3 minutes passed when the former Lankan skipper got another helmet. After having a discussion with the third umpire, the on-field umpires gave him a ‘timed-out’ the only incident in almost 147 years of history in international cricket. 

Angelo Mathews gave Shakib Al Hasan a 'timely' send-off, Bangladesh vs Sri Lanka, Men's ODI World Cup, November 6, 2023

The fourth umpire cleared the whole issue in front of the camera during the innings break but the Lankan players, fanbase and media touted this incident as an act against the ‘spirit of cricket’. Bangladesh chased down the 280-runs target in the end with 3 wickets and 59 balls in hand. However, before that Angelo started another unique celebration that escalated the tension. After dismissing Shakib at 82, he pointed at his wrist to tease Shakib for the timed-out incident – a gesture later followed by both Bangladeshis and Lankans. 


Stones will be thrown at Shakib in Sri Lanka

After the timed-out incident at Delhi’s Arun Jaitley Stadium Shakib faced unprecedented backlash in social media and many media houses and some of the current & former cricketers started criticizing him. Amid the great furore, Angelo Mathews’ brother Trevis Mathews threatened Shakib in front of the media. While giving his opinion to an Indian English newspaper he cited, ‘We are very disappointed. The Bangladeshi captain has no sportsman spirit and did not show humanity in the gentleman’s game.’ He also said, ‘Shakib is not welcome in Sri Lanka. If he comes here to play any international or the Lanka Premier League matches, stones will be thrown at him or he will have to face the annoyance of fans.’

However, Galle Titans, Shakib’s LPL team responded to this comment by issuing a statement on their Facebook page which reads, ‘Please remember that a single statement of one person does not reflect the opinion of an entire country. Similarly, Sri Lankans will never behave like this. The cricket fans of our country will accept a player from any country very lovingly at any time.’

The timed-out celebration continues…

Shoriful Islam celebrates snagging Avishka Fernando second ball of the game, Bangladesh vs Sri Lanka, 1st T20I, Sylhet, March 4, 2024

In early 2024, the Sri Lankan team came to Bangladesh on a full-scale tour comprising all three formats of the game that started with an enjoyable T20I series. After the incident of the last ODI World Cup both of the teams faced each other for the first time during that tour and as usual this one was no exception for the players and the fanbase. During the first T20I, after dismissing Avishka Fernando Shariful gave the same gesture that Mathews gave to Shakib at the CWC. 

The Sri Lanka players point to their wrists - a reference to the controversial Angelo Mathews timed-out dismissal - after winning the series, Bangladesh vs Sri Lanka, 3rd T20I, Sylhet, March 9, 2024

Lankans also didn’t forget to taunt back Bangladesh. After winning the first match by 3 runs, they beat the Tigers in the 3rd T20I as well which brought them a victory in the 3-match T20I series by 2-1. While having a photoshoot with the trophy the whole Lankan team pointed at their wrist – to remind Bangladesh about the timed-out incident. When asked about it in the post-match press conference Bangladeshi skipper Shanto replied, ‘There is nothing to handle aggressively when it comes to this. I think they are yet to move on from the timed-out dismissal. They should move on and stay in the present since we didn’t do anything outside the rules of cricket. I think they are making a fuss about it but we are not worried about it.

But the question is did the Bangladeshi team move on? The answer is ‘no’. After beating the Lankans in the subsequent ODI series, Musfiqur Rahim utterly ridiculed the opponent by bringing his helmet and pointing as if there were some issues with it and his teammates joined with him. However, after giving the host side a shameful experience in the test series, the Sri Lankans didn’t react any further.

Due to the friction between two cricket-playing nations over the game, ICC is also utilizing it. It is alleged that ICC is trying to keep both of them in the same group like India-Pakistan and England-Australia. Bangladesh and Sri Lanka will face each other in Texas’s Grand Prairie Stadium to play a group-stage match of the T20 World Cup. Will this trend of rivalry continue? Maybe. If anything interesting happens we would be glad to update this article. Till then take care. 

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