Tempers flare as Ishant, Prasad face off
The Sri Lanka-India Test series witnessed its first major boil-over on its penultimate day following a spat between Ishant Sharma and Dhammika Prasad towards the end of India's second innings at the SSC. The umpires spoke to both captains following the incident, but the bad blood didn't end there; it spilled over into Ishant's celebrations at the fall of Sri Lanka's third wicket, the bowler smacking his own head repeatedly.
The drama began when Ishant, the last man in, ducked under a Prasad bouncer in the 76th over of India's innings, and grinned back at the bowler. It had been a long and hot day for the bowlers, and from that moment things got out of hand. Prasad and Ishant exchanged glares, and faced off.
Things got more heated when Ishant pushed the next ball for a single and smacked his helmet repeatedly while running down the pitch and past Prasad, as if goading him to bowl more bouncers. Dinesh Chandimal walked over from slip, his shoulder grazing Ishant's. Non-striker R Ashwin then joined the discussion before the umpires stepped in. Prasad, who had been peppered with short balls from Ishant while batting, took the bouncer invitation when Ishant next came on strike, the batsman swaying out of the line. Prasad, who had overstepped by a big margin, treated Ishant to a glare.
Towards the end of the over, the umpires had a word with the Sri Lanka captain Angelo Matthews. Next ball, Prasad dismissed Ashwin to end India's innings. A bizarre sight followed. Ishant sprinted towards the dressing room, in order to get changed and ready to return to bowl. Dhammika followed him in what looked like a full sprint.
The two players were headed for different rooms and television footage showed Ishant turning right after getting to the top of a flight of stairs; when Prasad reached the top of the stairs, it is learnt, he was pushed towards his own dressing room by members of the Sri Lankan support staff, to avoid any further confrontation.
Before the Sri Lankan second innings began, the umpires had a long conversation with Virat Kohli, India's captain. It didn't subdue Ishant, who once again gave a departing batsman a send-off - he had been fined 65% of his match fee for committing the same offence, twice, during the second Test - when he dismissed opener Upul Tharanga. Kohli joined in.
When Ishant took the wicket of Chandimal, he marked the moment by striking the side of his head. Mathews, who walked in at this point, sought to cool the rising tempers, talking to both Ishant and Kohli.
At the press conference at the end of the day's play, Rohit Sharma said he hadn't seen the initial incident since he was getting a massage. But he didn't think there was any bad blood between Ishant and Prasad. "All this keeps happening," he said. "They are very good friends. I just saw them having a cup of tea after the game, which is good."
In a series that had been played without any major incident, the first simmering was sighted on the third evening of the third Test, but had been sorted out by the players themselves. As Kusal Perera and Rangana Herath held off the Indian bowling after the Sri Lankans were reduced to 47-6, frustration boiled over as Herath and Ishant went into an eyeball-for-eyeball contest in the 32nd over, after Herath ducked under an Ishant bouncer. They were separated by very little except about 12 inches in height and Ajinkya Rahane's intervention.
After Perera was dimissed, following a 79-run stand with Herath, Kohli, who had taken the catch, kicked the ball and swore under his breath (unfortunately, not out of the sight of TV cameras), with the departing batsman and Ishant exchanging words. Ishant later said he had only "asked him about our dinner plans". The general order of the series was eventually restored with Ishant and Herath having a shorter and far more fruitful peace talk than India-Pakistan diplomats can manage these days. Kohli patted Herath on the back when he was the ninth batsman out.
Sharda Ugra is senior editor at ESPNcricinfo
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. @andrewffernando