Tensions bubbled over early on day two of the second cricket Test in Bangalore, where opposing skippers Steve Smith and Virat Kohli were involved in several heated verbal clashes.
Batsman Smith and fielding skipper Kohli repeatedly swapped barbs throughout Sunday morning – even at the drinks break when they were separated by a couple of metres.
Michael Clarke suggested it was a clear attempt from India captain Kohli to unsettle his Australian counterpart following the home team’s unexpected struggles early in the four-Test series.
“Virat Kohli and Steve Smith are going at it. Between overs Virat was into Steve Smith. It looks like Smith is going back as well,” former Australia skipper Clarke said on Star Sports.
“It’s the pressure here, it might be getting to both teams.
“Smith has made a lot of runs in the last 12 months … I can’t recall anybody getting under his skin or saying a word to him.
“Virat (has decided) … we’re not going to sit here and allow Steve Smith to play his game. I want to try and stir him up and get something out of the Australian captain.”
Smith dug in for 52 deliveries but finally fell on eight, triggering wild celebrations from Kohli and his teammates.
Smith scored arguably the best century of his Test career in Pune then declared India were “under a bit of pressure” following Australia’s shock 333-run first Test win.
Kohli’s response was terse.
“Does it look like it (India are under pressure)? I’m pretty relaxed. I’m happy. I’m smiling. It’s fine – his views and whatever he wants to say,” he snapped.
“I know these mind games.”
The talented batsmen have a history of on-field spats.
Kohli was fined for remonstrating with Smith during a 2014 Test at Adelaide Oval, while Smith took exception to a send-off at the same venue during a Twenty20 in 2016.
Things first became heated in the 22nd over on Sunday, when umpire Nigel Llong was forced to play peacemaker during an incident involving Smith, Kohli, Ravichandran Ashwin and Matt Renshaw.
Ashwin, pumped up after clean bowling David Warner with a cracking offbreak, was furious Smith scored a single off his first delivery.
The offspinner raged at Renshaw, who was standing at the non-striker’s end, for blocking his path to the ball. Kohli also gave the 20-year-old opener a spray.
Those words prompted Smith to become involved, at which point Long attempted to intervene.
Smith and Ashwin, who are teammates at Indian Premier League franchise Pune, swapped a few more barbs before calm was temporarily restored.
“Renshaw at the age of 20, he won’t back down at all. He’s got the right to stand there and hold his ground,” Brett Lee said on Star.
“A bit of niggle there and that’s healthy.”
Llong had a long chat with Kohli at the end of that over, presumably asking him to ensure there was no repeat.