The third Test between India and Australia in Ranchi will be about much more than runs scored and wickets taken.
The acrimony between the two sides has reached such a level that it has started to spill over whenever the players seem to be anywhere near each other.
India captain Virat Kohli made his displeasure clear, over and over again, regarding Steven Smith’s DRS faux pas in the Bangalore Test. Yes, the Aussie captain did err in attempting to consult the dressing room regarding an lbw referral in a case that was blatantly against the spirit of the game. But what happened afterwards took the focus away from the incident and made it into an issue of integrity and honesty.
Kohli didn’t say as much but the conversation with the media in Bangalore pointed in the direction of that dreaded word – cheating. It was all out in the open now and both cricket boards took it upon themselves to defend their captains. The ICC stepped in and decided to do nothing at all.
Then Ravi Ashwin and Cheteshwar Pujara decided to divulge details of their on-field banter with the Australians.
That doesn’t happen often and is, frankly, childish. Whatever happens on the cricket field needs to be kept there and if complaints have to be made, there is a process in place to address that.
Senior Indian players have added fuel to an already explosive situation and it could have been avoided. There is already enough bad blood between the teams to last for seasons, let alone one series. So why take the conversation away from the field and make it personal?
The danger as far as the Indians are concerned is that the behavior of Kohli and Co, in front of the camera, could rile up the Australians and push them to come out all guns blazing over the next five days at the JSCA International Stadium Complex.
It happened to India during the 2008 Perth Test following the charged-up Sydney ‘Monkeygate’ Test of Harbhajan Singh, Andrew Symonds and the subsequent horrible fallout that lingered for years.
The Indian camp believed they were treated unfairly at the WACA and that the world was against them. They went on to register one of the most remarkable Test wins in Indian history.
The Aussies could very well believe the Indian camp has crossed certain limits. That may not be true but it doesn’t matter. It’s the belief that counts. And Smith’s side might well turn their game up to 11.
Therefore, it’s important for Kohli to take it upon himself to tone things down.
The situation is getting out of hand. Images of Ishant Sharma making faces after delivering the ball are not funny, nor are the details of on-field banter.
The hosts seem to be taking a cue from Kohli and turning up the aggression when there is hardly any need for it. India are firing on all cylinders and competing to the best of their abilities, so there is no reason to pick a fight – it’s childish and petulant.
The captains will meet before the third Test and we have been told they will promise each other to play in the right spirit.
Hopefully, Kohli will take half a step back and ensure the situation doesn’t boil over, as it has threatened to do for some time. Because if it does, there could be casualties on both sides.