Mind your manners, it's the IPL
And thus, an India-Australia series for the ages ended in the throes of millennial ailments: social-media shaming, fake-news flu, hashtag hernias, brain fades, and finally, even an "unfriending".
Surely, gentlemen, it needn't be this way? The broadcasters reached fresh lowest common denominators (honestly, using "Bully the Bully" as a visual "wipe" to switch from one segment of a cricket show to the next, and a segment featuring mouthy India-Australia confrontations called "Sledgehammer"? #rolleyes). Several journalists burnt their keyboards searching for slights, real or imagined.
For the moment, though, that side of the business is done. What remains from this series for the fans on either side is what was created and fuelled around the cricket - animosity, resentment, and a simmering sense of "Next time, ^%$%*#, just see what we'll do to you." The India-Australia rivalry certainly didn't begin this way, but along with high-quality, high-octane cricket, this sort of thing is now inevitably a part of the package, camouflaged by talk of heat and kitchens and boys and men.
Yet in less than a week, Steven Smith will captain R Ashwin and Ajinkya Rahane, Pat Cummins will play alongside Karun Nair and Jayant Yadav, Glenn Maxwell will share a change room with M Vijay and Wriddhiman Saha, and David Warner will captain Bhuvneshwar Kumar. The tenth season of the IPL is almost here, and mateship is set to resume after what Brad Hodge, Gujarat Lions coach and guiding light to Ravindra Jadeja, referred to as a "spiteful" series.
Already Virat Kohli has issued a clarification and Hodge has apologised for stray comments about Kohli's priorities vis a vis the IPL. "My intention was never to harm, criticise or be derogatory towards anyone," said Hodge, "They were intended to be light-hearted comments, with the utmost respect to the Indian Premier League, which I have thoroughly enjoyed through the years."
There is nothing like the clear, clarifying context of the IPL (bless its blingy soul) to put every overheated player stoush and national-pride-denting controversy in its place. So, friends, fans and patriots who foam, stomp their feet, spit out profanities on the internet and nurse antipathy and bitterness, you do realise you have been had?
For all their emotional involvement in matters that provoke countries into heightened hysterics, players tend to be far more practical about these matters. Harbhajan Singh, no stranger to run-ins, calls it for the benefit of the one-eyed.
"It all happens in a moment, you're playing to win, it's competition," he says. "Wherever there's sport, raada hoga, [there will be a scuffle]. These things will happen." These moments, he says, are gone as fast as they came. "Because of that moment, do you want to ruin the moments that will come in the future? When you're playing on one team? No, you don't."
The 2008 Border-Gavavskar series is now doomed to be called Monkeygate for a Harbhajan-Andrew Symonds mouth-off. In the 2011 IPL, Harbhajan played alongside Symonds for Mumbai Indians and both men had to deal with the memories. They talked about their skirmish. Harbhajan says, "We were out as a group one evening, for dinner or something, and the two of us just sat down and discussed it. Like two guys who had grown up a bit from those days, we said, let's forget it, what's done is done. You wanted to win for your team, I wanted to win for my team, you did what you felt was right, I did what I felt was right, no hard feelings. Khatam [Over]."
It helped that three years had elapsed; had Harbhajan and Symonds been pushed into an IPL team only months after the event, when the matter was still fresh, Harbhajan says, "maybe we would have had some khundak [grudge]. But even then, when you are playing for one team, you can't keep holding things to heart. It's up to you if you want to make it work. If you are in one team and both want to win matches but if you don't want to speak to each other, how is it going to help? You have to pull it together in one direction."
Ricky Ponting's flying catch off Harbhajan's bowling in IPL 2013 and the full-on hugs that followed it proved as much. "As players, when there's a catch coming at you, you don't look at who's bowling or whether you have to take or drop it. You just go for it. Because you have a common cause and that's what you play for in a team. Never mind what's happened in the past but in one team you push for each other." Between international players, he says, matters are settled with this argument: "He was playing for his country, I was playing for my country, dono dum laga ke [both with full force], forget it, now we're for one team."
The script changes a little when two Indian players go at each other - as in the case of Gautam Gambhir versus Kohli in 2013, with Gambhir eventually playing Tests under Kohli in 2016-17. Harbhajan says much depends on how severe the arguments are. "It takes time to adjust." He employs an analogy that is best expressed in Hindi: "Ghar main banda zyada der tak naraaz rehta hai [The anger stoked at home takes longer to subside]." But subside it does and any friction between players, whether from home or overseas can be healthy tussles, as long as they do not flare up through outside intervention.
It is in that respect that the India-Australia series achieved a new low, by way of the sights and sounds of the two cricket boards involved going at each other. Through an army of obedient foot soldiers, there was tweeting and leaking and sniping. Two of the world's biggest and best-endowed cricket boards behaving like bickering on-field prima donnas. What could possibly be the sobering, clarifying equivalent of the IPL for them? (Or wait, was that what the Big Three was all about?)
The next time India and Australia, or anyone else, works themselves up into a rage, it would help fans and their collective blood pressure to channel their inner theatre-goer and recognise it for the role-playing it is. The protagonists in every cricket melodrama fall mostly into these categories: Warrior, Victim, Preacher or Righteous Brother. Enjoy the cricket, revel in it, folks, but know your tribe. Now put away the flags and bring on the pom-poms.
Sharda Ugra is senior editor at ESPNcricinfo