NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Keeping a lid on emotion will be nearly as important as executing gameplans for both India and Australia when the world’s top two teams continue their captivating series with the third test in Ranchi on Thursday.
Sparks will always fly when two teams playing similarly aggressive cricket clash on the field but Steve Smith’s “brain fade” during Australia’s defeat in Bengaluru has injected an extra layer of acrimony into the four-match series.
The Australia captain’s glance to the dressing room when he was deciding whether to review an umpiring decision drew an explosive response from his counterpart Virat Kohli, whom many consider more Australian in temperament than Indian.
The cricket boards sprang to the defence of their respective captains and former players did their bit in fanning the fire until the International Cricket Council (ICC) stepped in to douse it.
The boards, comrades-in-arms in many a battle at the ICC, have since agreed a truce and brokered a meeting between Kohli and Smith before the match at the brand new test venue of Ranchi, the hometown of Kohli’s predecessor MS Dhoni.
“When you’ve got a caged lion they’re going to come out pretty hard. That’s what happened in the Bangalore test and we expect it for the rest of the tour,” said Australia wicketkeeper Matthew Wade, who owes his place in the side to his aggressive chatter behind the stumps.
“The change from the first test to the second test was probably the initial shock (but) Indian teams are always quite aggressive. Dhoni was a different captain to Kohli, but that’s just personality.”
With Australia just one win away from retaining the Border-Gavaskar trophy after their victory in the Pune opener, Smith’s focus will be on maintaining the pressure on India’s illustrious batting order.
The tourists received a body blow when pace spearhead Mitchell Starc returned home with a fractured foot and Pat Cummins will have big shoes to fill if he gets the nod to play his second test after more than five years in the wilderness.
For the hosts, Murali Vijay appears to have recovered from a shoulder injury and is primed to join Lokesh Rahul at the top of the order after stopgap opener Abhinav Mukund looked at sea in Bengaluru.
In the backdrop of the prevailing mood in the series, the David Warner-Ravichandran Ashwin duel will be another interesting sub-plot to the Ranchi test.
Off-spinner Ashwin has dismissed Warner nine times in 23 test innings and the Australia opener is mulling playing the reverse-sweep more frequently to upset the joint highest wicket-taker of the series.
Once a hotheaded young firebrand, Warner has taken on a more statesmanlike bearing since being handed the Australia vice-captaincy and has vowed not to respond to verbal volleys on the field.
Kohli and Smith will be expected to display the same maturity when play gets underway on Thursday.
Reporting by Amlan Chakraborty in New Delhi; editing by Nick Mulvenney