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Anger And Simmering Resentment Are Now The Hallmarks Of Indian Cricket

They play the game well and the gamesmanship even better.

08/03/2017 9:54 AM AEDT | Updated 08/03/2017 12:28 PM AEDT
Danish Siddiqui / Reuters
Kohlitude.

India won the second Test in Bengaluru by 75 runs, and you have to congratulate them. They were the better team. After Australia had won the first Test in Pune by a whopping 333 runs, then dominated day one of the second Test, India dug deep and fought back.

But India didn't dig quite as deep as the cracks in the awful Benguluru pitch, and therein lies the seeds of Australian resentment. The visitors won't say it lest they be seen as whingers, but they're furious at pitches which are clearly tailored for the locals.

Indian resentment, meanwhile, is focused around the incident in which Steve Smith seemingly turned to his dressing room for advice on whether to review his LBW decision. This made Indian captain Virat Kohli angry, as you're not allowed to do that.

Aussie batsman Peter Handscomb took the rap for the incident, but India -- led by its governing body, the BCCI -- wasn't buying any of that.

Players didn't shake hands after this match, and the post-match press conference was a feisty affair.

So here's the broad picture in this four-match series, which is now locked at 1-1. Not for the first time, we have open cricket warfare. This is pretty much standard procedure in Australia-India series nowadays, and here's why.

The two teams have never really gotten past the "Monkeygate" scandal in the summer of of 2007/08, when Indian bowler Harbhajan Singh reportedly called Australian player Andrew Symonds a "monkey".

But even that incident was a manifestation -- rather than the cause -- of the the new age nastiness between these two cricket powers. And the reasons tensions have flared in recent times says more about the change in global cricket power than the relations between any particular generation of players.

India, powered by the IPL Twenty20 competition (which spawned copycat leagues like our own Big Bash) is now the financial capital of the cricket world. While the International Cricket Council (ICC) officially runs cricket, the BCCI effectively runs the game -- and that includes everything from tours to player sanctions to silly little things like who presents trophies at tournaments.

India's players have become emboldened by the power shift. Look at Ishant Sharma and his "facial sledge". And look at Virat Kohli in the Test match just gone. He spent the whole match yapping, taunting, always in the face of the Australians and especially Steve Smith. When Australian wickets fell, Kohli didn't just high-five his team-mates. He flexed his arm in a symbolic show of strength.

BCCI TV

Cricket has made India rich, powerful and as famous as it's possible to be in an essentially one-sport nation, and they're loving it.

Are the Indians any worse than the sledging Aussies who dominated cricket in the 1990s and 2000s? They are not. But that doesn't mean they're not ugly -- especially when you consider that Smith's team, while feisty enough, is nowhere near as verbally combative as the teams of the Steve Waugh era.

As for the pitches, well, Indians absolutely hate that subject being brought up in polite conversation. But a month after this tour, Smith will captain Pune in IPL T20 cricket. The pitch he plays on will be perfect. Not a blade of grass will be out of place. You could play billiards on its surface. The Pune pitch on which the first Test was played was barely fit for a polo match.

In Bengaluru, the pitch was even worse. As you can see in the video above, the ball that dismissed Smith was a true mullygrubber which skidded through at an altitude lethal to worms.

How can a nation which cultivated cotton 5,000 years before the rest of the civilised world fail to create an adequate 22-yard strip of grass? The answer, of course, is they don't want to.

Danish Siddiqui / Reuters
We've seen smaller sinkholes than some of those cracks.

Talk to any cricket correspondent who has covered tours to India and they'll tell you that wire brushes are often employed before a match to erase any shred of grass from the pitch. The surface is deliberately roughened to favour the local spinners, and to negate the sideways seam movement of visiting pacemen.

Do other countries doctor pitches to suit their own teams? Absolutely. When England spinner Graeme Swann was at his peak, Australia somehow found themselves playing in England on what looked like drought-stricken pitches. When Stuart Broad was at his peak, imagine our surprise at being dished up a a greentop and being bowled out for 60 as Broad took seven wickets.

Ricky Ponting once lamented that Australian curators should doctor pitches, but don't. Our pitches are naturally hard, but if we made them even harder and bouncier -- like the WACA used to be -- we'd have a distinct advantage.

But generally, the Australians are slightly less inclined to tailor pitches to suit the home team. That might sound like a one-eyed analysis, but take a good look at the pitch used in Benguluru when the Royal Challengers IPL team steps out in a month, and get back to us then. Our money says there won't be a crack in sight.

Meanwhile, this four-Test series moves on to Ranchi, a city in north-east India. It's home to India's previous Test skipper MS Dhoni, but all eyes will again be on the current captain, Virat Kohli, whose aggressive body language and persona now embodies everything about modern Indian cricket.

He's due to score runs too, which has to be a worry for Australia -- who only need to win one match to retain the Border-Gavaskar trophy.



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