In the realm of cricket, rivalries often ignite passion among fans and stir excitement on the field. However, as the much-anticipated Asia Cup approaches, two prominent figures in the Bangladeshi cricket scene, Shakib Al Hasan and Chandika Hathurusinghe, are steering away from the conventional notion of rivalry. They emphasize that their team’s encounters with Sri Lanka and Afghanistan are more about camaraderie and competition than fierce animosity.
A Reevaluation of Rivalries
Recent history has seen a tango of triumphs and setbacks between Bangladesh and their group-stage opponents, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka. In a recent three-match ODI series, Afghanistan managed to secure a 2-1 victory over Bangladesh. However, the home team retaliated in the subsequent T20I series, emerging victorious with a 2-0 scoreline. The narrative with Sri Lanka is intriguingly complex. While Bangladesh clinched victory in their last bilateral ODI series, Sri Lanka maintains a dominant record of 40-9 in head-to-head encounters.
As the stage is set for the Asia Cup, a pivotal encounter awaits on August 31 when Bangladesh faces Sri Lanka. Subsequently, the team will lock horns with Afghanistan on September 3 in Lahore. While these matches are undoubtedly a focus for fans, both Shakib and Hathurusinghe underscore the evolving nature of relationships within the cricket fraternity.
Evolving Relationships on the Field
Shakib Al Hasan, an integral part of the Bangladeshi squad, articulates that the term “rivalry” might not capture the essence of their interactions with these teams. He notes that the players have fostered relationships through international engagements and franchise leagues. The intensity often attributed to rivalries may not entirely apply.
Shakib asserts, “We have been competitive against both these teams recently. They try their hardest to win; we also give it our all. These things are good for the fans. It is good for the game. We also want it to be this way. We want to win at the end of the day. Since we all know each other, there’s not much rivalry within the players.”
Hathurusinghe concurs, shedding light on the recent history of competitive encounters. “At the same time, I think we had some success against them in the recent past. So we don’t take the rivalry into account, but our strategy against both teams is [focused on] how we can get an advantage.”
Strategic Decisions Looming
In the midst of the contemplation surrounding rivalries, a pivotal question emerges for Bangladesh: the composition of their playing XI. The strategic choice between fielding five or six bowlers poses a conundrum. The inclusion of an extra bowler could potentially lengthen the tail of the batting order. However, Hathurusinghe assures that the bowlers have dedicated substantial effort to enhancing their batting prowess.
“We might play that kind of combination [six bowlers]. We keep that in mind. The bowlers trained on their batting a lot in probably the last two months, three months with our skill coaches.”
Taskin Ahmed’s improved batting skills draw Hathurusinghe’s attention. “Taskin [Ahmed] improved a lot [as a batter]. He has given us evidence as well against England. He closed the game out. At the same time, if you remember, Shoriful [Islam] showed against Ireland and the Afghanistan game what he could do, and got us over the line.”
Ebadot Hossain’s Absence and Emerging Talents
The challenge intensifies with the absence of Ebadot Hossain, who couldn’t recover from a knee injury sustained against Afghanistan in July. Shakib acknowledges the setback this presents but remains optimistic about the team’s prospects. He shares, “I still, however, believe that we can reach far with this team. We have to qualify first. We want to take it one match at a time.”
Amid these dynamics, the inclusion of Tanzid Hasan, the left-handed opener and top run-scorer in the Emerging Asia Cup, adds a spark to Bangladesh’s campaign. Shakib expresses confidence in Tanzid’s abilities and offers a broader perspective, stating, “I want him to enjoy the game and the environment around the team. We will try to make him feel as comfortable as possible.”
Tanzid and Tanzim Hasan Sakib, who replaced Ebadot, represent a stream of young talent flowing from Bangladesh’s Under-19 World Cup-winning side of 2020. Shakib acknowledges their potential to infuse the team with a winning mentality, saying, “They have won the World Cup once, so they have the winning mentality. They can inspire our team to do something major, too.”
As the cricketing world awaits the unfolding drama of the Asia Cup, Bangladesh embraces the idea that camaraderie and competition can coexist. Shakib and Hathurusinghe lead their team with a vision that transcends traditional rivalries, emphasizing the importance of evolving relationships, strategic adaptability, and the infusion of emerging talents. In this journey, the players’ unity, determination, and evolving camaraderie promise to shape the narrative on the field and beyond.