Neither camp believes any line of personal decency was crossed during on-field exchanges between Tim Paine and Virat Kohli during the Perth Test between Australia and India.
The series had been incident-free on the first seven days, but on the eighth the two captains exchanged a few verbals, which carried on into the ninth day, and paused momentarily with a cheeky Josh Hazlewood saying Kohli was not the most prized wicket for Australia.
It all possibly started in Perth on the third day with Kohli telling Paine he was staring at a 2-0 deficit if he messed up with the bat. Paine responded with telling Kohli he had to bat last on this pitch. The needle continued into the fourth morning where the umpires had to intervene. There nearly was physical contact when Kohli and Paine’s paths crossed as they looked to field the ball and take a single respectively.
Two subplots to these confrontations arguably made it bigger than it might have been. Australia find themselves under intense scrutiny for their behaviour after the events in Cape Town and the culture review. The confrontation, coming as it did when India started to feel they were falling behind for the first time in the series, could possibly be seen as a cynical attempt to push the Australian buttons.
Australia’s concentration on Kohli – not just the players, but the media, the former players, the broadcasters – has at times been excessive with each move of his being scrutinised. Even after getting Kohli out, Paine used his name for banter with M Vijay, basically asking him how he could possibly like Kohli despite his being the captain.
At the press conferences at the end of day four, both sides strove to downplay the incidents as “part of the game”, “bit of fun”, and something that shouldn’t be read too much into. “I think it was all good fun,” Australia fast bowler Hazlewood said. “It’s quite competitive out there as you know, and there’s going to be words from time to time, but it was all in good spirits I think.”
Shami was of a similar view. He was asked if he found any inconsistencies with how Australia had promised they would behave and how they have actually gone.
“See it is a long match, and there might be some moment where you say something and you get a reply in that moment,” Shami said. “So maybe in that moment, things get heated up but it is not something to be made a big issue out of. According to me, we should leave this here. It is part of the game, and it is a way to enjoy things in the Test match. Sometimes we say things, they get upset and make mistakes. These are the moments, but nothing personal.”
When asked if the Australians started it, Shami refused to commit either way. “If there is no sledging, you won’t enjoy the game, the public won’t enjoy the game. If there is aggression, the match becomes more interesting. It is part of the game. As it should be.”
Hazlewood was asked if Australia felt frustrated and if they felt the opposition was trying to capitalise on the scrutiny they were under.
“No, I don’t think so,” he said. “I think at stages in a game it is going to get heated from time to time. I think we are pretty confident that we can hold that line that we have talked about as a group. It’s more in the heat of the moment, definitely not a ploy to attack any batsman at any stage. It has been really good so far. Just good banter.
“I don’t think we read too much into it, we go about our work as we see fit and the Indians can do what they like. We control what we control, and our behaviour is what we control. We’ll worry about that, and let everything else take care of itself.”
In a way, Kohli is under similar scrutiny with all the cameras trained at him, scanning every move, be it celebration, reaction to crowd or banter with the opposition. Shami said they didn’t feel concerned about that, but Hazlewood might have made the cheekiest comment yet about the entire thing.
Asked if Australia were risking focusing too much on Kohli alone, Hazlewood left with this reply: “I probably see [Cheteshwar] Pujara as the big wicket as far as when I’m bowling,” Hazlewood said. “The glue that holds them together I think. He has batted the most balls this series, and scored nearly the most runs. I see him as a big wicket and [Ajinkya] Rahane as well. So the Nos 3, 4, 5 as the key wickets, and we see it a bit unstable in the other parts of the order. Certainly not all the focus is on Virat.” (ESPNCricinfo)