Australia's captain, Steven Smith, has denied his team veered into inappropriate personal territory during their first Test sledging of England's players, and also questioned how James Anderson could refer to his team as "bullies" when the swing bowler is widely known as one of the more verbally hostile players in world cricket.
While the batsman Pete Handscomb was happy to describe Australia's approach to England at the Gabba as "brutal" and foreshadowed more of the same in Adelaide, Smith was quick to dismiss the notion that anything the Australians had said crossed the much-debated "line" between gamesmanship and personal abuse. Jonny Bairstow was a particular target for the hosts in Brisbane, with much publicity around references to his headbutt on Cameron Bancroft early in the tour among numerous other verbal barbs.
"I think everything was fine. It was played in good spirit. As I've said previously, there's a line there that we're not to cross. I thought we played the game in good spirit, I've got no issues there," Smith said when asked if "hand on heart" he was comfortable with all that was said on the field at the Gabba. "I think the umpires and match referees are there to determine that. From my point of view it's about playing good hard aggressive cricket. I think we did that well at the Gabba and no doubt we'll continue to do that throughout the series."
Equally, Smith was intent on calling out Anderson following his depiction of the Australians as bullies who only sing when they're winning. "A bully waits until they are in the ascendancy to pounce on people. That is what Australian teams do," Anderson wrote in the Telegraph. "They are quiet when they are not on top which was the case for the first three days of the Brisbane Test and then on day four they came alive." Recalling his first taste of Ashes cricket in 2010-11, Smith spoke of how Anderson rounded on him.
"I read the article. I think it's interesting coming from Jimmy calling us bullies and big sledgers," Smith said. "I think he's one of the biggest sledgers in the game to be perfectly honest with you. To me in particular. I remember back in 2010 when I first started and wasn't any good he was pretty happy to get stuck into me then. Interesting coming from Jimmy."
England's captain Joe Root had intimated that his team were unhappy about how much mirth Smith took from Bancroft's dry account of his earlier meeting with Bairstow, but his opposite number stated plainly that he was simply reacting to the young opening batsman's delivery, which caused plenty of laughter on both sides of the Gabba press conference room.
"I certainly wasn't mocking his team," Smith said. "I was laughing at Cameron and the way he delivered the events of what had happened. I don't know Cameron that well yet, I haven't played a lot with him yet. He was very dry and different in the way things came across. You guys got a good laugh out of it as much as I did. I'm happy to clarify that with him, no problem there at all."
For his part, Root said both teams needed to be careful that on-field exchanges stayed in the realm of banter and did not move into more personal areas. "I think there is a place for a bit of banter out on the field as long as it stays as banter and doesn't become more than that," he said. "If it does, the umpires need to make sure it has a line that's stopped at on both sides at the same time.
"Firstly you don't want it to become a series where the umpires are telling guys to get on with the game and getting involved at every single opportunity. You want there to be a bit of niggle there and a bit of banter flying around. That's good for the game, it's good to watch, it's good to be involved in. It makes for good television.
"But there are certain things that people know they should and shouldn't say on a field and it's important both sides - not just one side, both sides - get that right and have enough respect for each other's sides to not overstep any mark."
As for the question of whether the Australians had overstepped the mark in targeting Bairstow, Root equivocated. "I've not really had a good enough conversation to find out what was said individually," Root said. "In his [Bairstow's] case, I'd like to think they know where when to stop and when too far is too far. If they have gone too far then it says more about them than it does about anything else."