Can Bangladesh be In­dia’s ‘Noisy’ Neigh­bours? The ri­valry against Pak­istan is too in­ter­mit­tent, that against Sri Lanka has never quick­ened the pulse — the Tigers are the best bet to fill the breach

The Economic Times - - Sports: The Great Games - Dileep Premachan­dran

The dic­tionary de­fines ‘ri­valry’ as “Com­pe­ti­tion for the same ob­jec­tive or for su­pe­ri­or­ity in the same field”. What it doesn’t tell you is that most ri­val­ries don’t fea­ture equals. There’s usu­ally a top dog, an es­tab­lished power, and an op­po­nent jeal­ous and re­sent­ful of its suc­cess.

The in­se­cu­rity of one and the sense of su­pe­ri­or­ity of the other feed off each other. Even when par­ity of a kind is achieved, the chips on the shoul­der, ac­cu­mu­lated over many years, don’t al­ways go away. Some like Pe­dro Martinez, the Do­mini­can who pitched for the Bos­ton Red Sox at the turn of the mil­len­nium, tend to­wards de­spair. “I wish I’d never see them again,” he said of his team’s great ri­vals, the New York Yan­kees. “I wished they’d dis­ap­pear from the league. Then we’d be win­ners.”

Back in De­cem­ber 1919, the Red Sox had traded Babe Ruth — who had just bro­ken the sin­gle-sea­son home-run record — to the Yan­kees. Ruth had helped Bos­ton win the World Series in three of the pre­vi­ous five sea­sons. With the Yan­kees, he would win four more. Bos­ton would go 86 years with­out win­ning an­other. In that time, the Yan­kees would rack up 26 ti­tles. The same sce­nario would play out in north­ern Eng­land, where Manch­ester United and Manch­ester City were equals in the swing­ing ’60s. But once Sir Alex Ferguson took charge at United, one club zoomed to­wards the stars, and the other stayed in the gut­ter. It was only less than a decade ago that City’s for­tunes started to change. “We’ve got a noisy neigh­bour,” said Ferguson with a smirk seven years ago.

In the sea­sons since he ut­tered those words, City have won as many ti­tles as United (two). And since Ferguson called it a day in 2013, the noisy neigh­bours have fin­ished ahead in the ta­ble ev­ery sea­son.

I ndi a n c r icket bad ly ne e d s a noisy neigh­bour. The ri­valry with Pak­istan now be­longs to the realms of nos­tal­gia rather than re­al­ity. This De­cem­ber, it will be a decade since the two teams played each other in a Test. This cen­tury, there have been just 12 such matches, all be­tween 2004 and 2007, when po­lit­i­cal re­la­tions were not as fraught as they are now.

To put that into per­spec­tive, In­dia have played 33 Tests each against Aus­tralia and Eng­land in that pe­riod. Sri Lanka and In­dia have con­tested 18 matches, de­spite the is­landers not hav­ing vis­ited In­dia since 2009. New Zealand and In­dia have played 17 times.

For what­ever rea­son though, the In­dia-Sri Lanka ri­valry, in Tests, has sel­dom quick­ened the pulse. When Mut­tiah Mu­ralitha­ran and Sachin Ten­dulkar were in their prime, the two teams never played each other, in much the same man­ner that Ten­dulkar’s ca­reer sel­dom in­ter­sected those of Wasim Akram and Waqar You­nis. The two Ws were in­volved in a Twit­ter spat of sorts over what hap­pened in the fi­nal stages of Anil Kum­ble’s per­fect ten in Fe­bru­ary 1999. Fans on both sides of the bor­der fol­lowed it with fas­ci­na­tion be­cause such strong mem­o­ries re­main of those three Tests played a gen­er­a­tion ago. For the main pro­tag­o­nists, they were ca­reer high­lights, fea­tur­ing mo­ments they re­call with both fond­ness and sad­ness. Mo­ham­mad Amir and Vi­rat Kohli, whose mini con­test il­lu­mi­nated a World T20 game last March, have never played against each other in whites. Amir, de­spite a five-year ban for his part in the no-ball scan­dal, has played 25 Tests. The game in Hy­der­abad against Bangladesh is Kohli’s 54th.

Each year, fans look at the Fu­ture Tours Pro­gram and feel fris­sons of an­tic­i­pa­tion when it shows that In­dia-Pak­istan is pen­cilled in. But the fix­tures stay on the page or screen. A gen­er­a­tion could well com­plete their ca­reers with­out play­ing an In­dia-Pak­istan Test, as was the case be­tween 1961 and 1978.

Ini­tially, the In­dian at­ti­tude to Bangladesh was one of be­nign con­de­scen­sion. Jag­mo­han Dalmiya may have been in­stru­men­tal in grant­ing the Tigers Test sta­tus, but even when he re­turned from the ICC to the pres­i­dency of his home board, no real ef­fort was made to in­vite Bangladesh over for a series. The ad­min­is­tra­tors that fol­lowed cared even less.

For most In­dian fans, it be­gan to be seen as a ri­valry only af­ter Mashrafe Mor­taza and friends pushed In­dia to­wards the World Cup exit in 2007. Flip­pant and ar­ro­gant re­marks from a cou­ple of pop­u­lar In­dian crick­eters i ncensed t he Bangladeshi sup­por t , a nd t he f use was re­ally lit by a TV promo run dur­ing the 2015 World Cup. W h e n Bangladesh beat In­dia in a bi lat­eral ODI series a few months later, some of the memes and videos were puerile, rooted in mind­less jin­go­ism than any sport-based ri­valry. Since then, temperatures were raised by the na­ture of In­dia’s vic­tory at the World T20 in 2016, and Mush­fiqur Rahim’s re­ac­tion to In­dia’s sub­se­quent exit.

Hope­fully, such non­sense is now be­hind us. What mat­ters, as Kohli put so elo­quently, is that Bangladesh get more op­por­tu­ni­ties to es­tab­lish them­selves as a Test force. With Pak­istan Tests un­likely in the fore­see­able fu­ture, this is the con­test most ca­pa­ble of fill­ing the breach. In­dia may be over­whelm­ing favourites in this one-off Test, but as Martinez and the Red Sox could tell you, the worm will turn one day. Af­ter the Curse of the Bam­bino ended in 2004, the Red Sox have won the World Series twice. The Yan­kees have had just one to cel­e­brate.

The pas­sion for cricket in Bangladesh has to be seen to be be­lieved. But for that to trans­late to the five-day ver­sion, fans need to be able to savour more of it. Hope­fully, the new BCCI ad­min­is­tra­tors will recog­nise the need for a ro­bust lo­cal ri­valry. With­out noisy neigh­bours, sport is bleached of its vi­brant colours.

The pas­sion for cricket in Bangladesh has to be seen to be be­lieved. But for that to trans­late to the five-day ver­sion, fans need to be able to savour more of it

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