As far as cricket rivalries go, it’s hard to surpass the neighbourly fisticuffs between India and Pakistan or the Ashes bouts between England and Australia, sparked by a mock obituary and Ivo Bligh’s bail-burning exploits. For the better part of the 1980s to the late 90s, the West Indies and Australia duelled ferociously. The sharp decline of the Caribbeans has dimmed the animosity: Curtly Ambrose vs Steve Waugh, Brian Lara vs Glen McGrath, anyone? Hopes of a Windies revival and the magnificence of footage are all that remain.

Also Read: India vs Pakistan: 5 best moments in cricket

South Africa and Australia can get feisty too. All the sandpaper can’t wipe the edge of a foaming David Warner holding the entire South African dressing room at ransom. The wild energy of peak-era Mitchell Johnson and Dale Steyn jousting for the fast-bowling crown lives long in the memory. As does Michael Clarke’s near masochistic brilliance against a rabid Morne Morkel. India-Australia contests too mirror this intensity. If the 2001 series was an indoctrination into test cricket for my wee-eyed self, the latest instalment was the kind of quarter-life balm a sports nut often seeks out.

But foisted upon the cricket world is a new rivalry, replete with bad blood and 21st-century flourishes. Welcome Bangladesh and Sri Lanka; let them gently enter this hot house. From contretemps to conflict, the journey was long and short, depending on where you start. For our benefit, we shan’t bother with the pre-history. Instead, diving right into the heat of the fire, we are.

It begins with the unlikely Darren Sammy and unassuming Nazmul Islam Apu. Yoked together via the Bangladesh Premier League’s Rajshahi Kings, the West Indian pastor began to call Nazmul ‘The Snake Man’ for his apparent likeness to the slithering creature. Nazmul adopted the moniker, even celebrating every wicket he took with the ‘Naagin Dance’: folding your arms above your head and cupping your hands to resemble a hooded cobra. A popular character across teams, he brought this celebration to the Bangladesh T20I side. His first victims? The touring Sri Lankans in January 2018. Sri Lankan all-rounder Danushka Gunathilaka mimicked young Nazmul during the series, something Bangladeshi talisman Mushfiqur Rahim noted with mild annoyance. On the field, Sri Lanka swept the T20I, ODIs and tests.

The flame, now lit, received vitriol in ex-Bangladesh and then Sri Lanka coach Chandika Hathurusingha. Since May 2014, he had overseen Bangladesh’s improvement in international cricket, but months before the Sri Lanka tour, he was prised away by the islanders. “When the motherland calls” and all that! After the series, the cheeky Lankan mentioned that his insider knowledge of the Tigers helped plot their downfall. As Sri Lankan cricketers rejoiced, the Bangladeshis silently seethed.

The rivalry would hit fever pitch a few months later in the Nidahas Trophy in Sri Lanka. The Indians- also in the fray- watched as their neighbours tussled tooth-and-nail. It began with Bangladesh’s thrilling five-wicket win in Colombo. Chasing 215, Mushfiqur’s anger-fuelled 72* off 35 balls took Bangladesh home. Celebrating mid-pitch with the Naagin Dance, the Bogura-born wicketkeeper-batsman gyrated uncontrollably around Gunathilaka. An unhinged Mushfiq was merely the precursor to what was to come.

The 6th game of the tourney- a virtual knockout for a final against India- was an ill-tempered affair from the get-go. In front of a heaving Premadasa, Sri Lanka posted 159 in their 20 overs. The Bangladeshis baited the hosts with the Naagins, of course. During the run chase, the Lankans responded similarly. Amila Aponso would go one better. Dismissing the dangerous Mushfiqur, the left-arm spinner unfurled an imaginary flute, tooting at it as if to suggest that he was the snake charmer. The taunts and barbs came to a head in the final over. With 12 needed off 5, the Lankan umpire (one of Wimalasiri or Palliyaguruge) refuses to award a shoulder-high no-ball. Bangladeshi batter Mahmudullah, all fury, argues with the officials. Bangladesh’s sub-fielders jostle with their Lankan counterparts on the sidelines: and a proper melee breaks out. Captain Shakib Al Hasan, bare-bodied and boiling, threatens to forfeit. The Premadasa is frothing at the mouth!

Bangladesh coach Khaled Mahmud intervenes, convincing Mahmudullah and Rubel Hossain to complete the match. Once the tension subsides, Isuru Udana resumes the final over. Mahmudullah creams Udana over cover first ball after the disruption. He flicks a full-toss next up to midwicket for a couple. With six needed off two, he launches the Lankan over backward square-leg for six. In its aftermath, the Bangladesh squad, in unison, performed the Naagin Dance in front of shell-shocked Lankans. A brawl breaks out as the fielders leave the field, forcing match referee Courtney Walsh to act as the one-person peace corps.

Also Read: Asia Cup 2022: What went wrong for Bangladesh against Sri Lanka

Signing off, the Bangladeshi cricketers smash glass panels and windows in their dressing room. Such was the mood around Colombo, the locals turned up in droves for the final. Rohit Sharma’s side offered a crumb of comfort to Colombo, beating the by-now, much hated Bangladesh by four wickets.

The two sides met last night in the Asia Cup. Four years since the storm last brewed, sparks did fly in the pre-match press conferences. Sri Lankan batter Bhanuka Rajapaksa said, “It’s like India-Pakistan playing.” The Islanders pulled off a fine run-chase, aided by indisciplined Bangaldesh’s error-strewn bowling. While the post-match mood was relatively jovial, Chamika Karunaratne unfurled the Naagin dance, reminding us that old scars rarely heal.