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Relations between Australia and India are nearing tipping point heading to the final Test in Sydney, the scene of the infamous “Monkeygate” scandal in 2008.
The spirit of co-operation between the boards of both countries at the start of the series appears a distant memory with emotions riding high after the conclusion to the Boxing Day Test in Melbourne.
With the Border-Gavaskar Trophy back in Cricket Australia’s trophy cabinet, the fourth Test is a dead rubber, but there is still plenty of pride on the line for both sides.
The Australians, many of whom have contracts in the Indian Premier League, are tired of the chatter from India’s players reminding them of their 4-0 humiliation last year on the subcontinent.
And the Indians, who have an atrocious record in Australia, are desperate to show they can no longer be bullied on these shores.
The on-field feud between the fierce rivals continued on Tuesday with a string of niggly incidents that is likely to come under the scrutiny of the International Cricket Council. Virat Kohli and David Warner could both be facing censure from match referee Roshan Mahanama.
Australia captain Steve Smith was spoken to at length by umpire Kumar Dharmasena over an apparent exchange between Warner and India’s batsmen while Ajinkya Rahane and Cheteshawar Pujara were at the crease.
Warner had told India on Monday night to prepare for more “in your face cricket” but said physical contact or swearing would constitute crossing the line of banter and unsportsmanlike conduct.
It was Brad Haddin’s turn on Tuesday to sledge Kohli as Australia’s feud with India’s agent provocateur escalated. Haddin must now be vying with Mitchell Johnson as India’s No.1 foe.
Closely shadowed by Kohli at the start of his innings on Monday, Haddin returned fire at the Indian during his half-century.
The Australians are bemused by Kohli’s constant references to himself on the field. They pounced on Kohli after he chided Murali Vijay after a mix-up that nearly cost the vice-captain his wicket.
“There he goes on his team again,” Haddin mocked while clapping provocatively in Kohli’s direction. “It’s all about you. It’s all about the one.”
Coincidentally, Kohli’s handle on Twitter is “imVKohli”. Kohli is believed to have responded by telling Haddin, who has endured a lean run with the bat this year, this was his last series.
Both sides believe they had not overstepped the mark with their on-field behaviour.
“What we have felt is when there’s continuous sledging at times you are very close to the boundary,” said M.S. Dhoni.
“But what’s important as individials and international cricketers and responsible cricketers that you don’t cross the boundary.
“There are the times the opposition have to neglect it and say it’s heat of moment and they don’t really mean that.
“If that’s done by both sides you see peaceful but aggressive cricket over the period of time.”
Although captain, as it turns out for the last time at Test level, Dhoni said that as wicketkeeper he had no control over what was happening on the other end of the pitch.
He believes there is a place for on-field banter and that the fans also enjoy it.
“I also keep telling the umpire if you feel there is something wrong please tell me and appropriately it will be handled,” Dhoni said.
“But at the same time we don’t want players not to be speaking and standing there playing the game of cricket.
“Overall I don’t really know what’s happening but both the sides handled it quite well. If it stays on the field it’s fair enough.”
Australia and India are regarded as two of the most aggressive teams on the field in world cricket.
The Indians were embroiled in a controversy involving James Anderson and Ravindra Jadeja in which the English paceman was charged for allegedly pushing and abusing the Indian all-rounder. The case was thrown out.
Cricket Australia chief James Sutherland had said earlier in the Test that the ICC was right in punishing players for poor on-field behaviour.
“One of the issues is if you don’t clamp down on it early, blow the whistle early, it can escalate,” Sutherland said.
“The problem I think in England this year, in the India England tour, there were things that didn’t get pulled up early enough and they escalated into issues that should never have arisen.
“Hopefully it’s happening a little bit more on the ground. There’s always a little bit of chatter out there and both teams are going pretty hard but as far as I can gather there’s nothing there crossing the line at the moment.”
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