Having requested that stump microphones be turned down when the ball is dead - in accordance with ICC guidelines - during the Test series with South Africa, Australia's players have sought to keep them down by using ambush marketing tactics on day two in Durban.
At the start of the Proteas' first innings, members of the Australian team were heard loudly talking up the virtues of competing sponsors Qantas and XXXX, with one player even asking the umpires "how good is Qantas?" as Mitchell Starc got ready to deliver the first ball. The two Australian sponsors are in competition with Emirates (sponsor of the ICC and its umpires) and the South African brewer Castle, which is an official supplier to Cricket South Africa.
The ploy, devised to have the stump mic faders turned down, was heard by commentators though not broadcast. The host broadcaster SuperSport is not believed to have heard anything they would deem tantamount to "ambush marketing" and have not turned the stump mics off or down. The gambit was first used by another Australian player more than a decade ago - Adam Gilchrist.
In a Test match in Bangladesh in 2006, immediately after another series in South Africa, Gilchrist was heard extolling the virtues of numerous Cricket Australia and personal sponsors. "Come on Bing - one for the boys at Travelex now," Gilchrist had said. "Travelex Foreign Exchange boys! Plenty of energy from a Milo Energy Bar. Keep it well oiled with Castrol boys. Come on."
These words followed the South Africa series in which numerous Australian sledges were picked up and either heard by commentators or broadcast more widely, causing the former England captain Tony Greig to comment on their ferocity. "I have never heard anything like it," Greig said in 2006. "I thought it might have something to do with the fact that we had a very, very good stump mic. We turned that stump mic up and we could hear every word out in the centre and it was unbelievable. It really was absolutely unbelievable. The Aussies love it."
It has long been a custom of South African broadcasters to keep stump mics turned up for large parts of a day's play, not simply when the ball is live. Plenty of on-field dialogue was discernible during the recent matches between South Africa and India, far more than is generally the case in other parts of the world.
In pre-series meetings, the Australian team commonly reminds the host board and broadcaster that ICC guidelines require the stump microphone faders to be turned down when the ball is not in play. This is widely regarded as being an attempt to hide extremes of "verbal intimidation", but can also be interpreted as an effort to avoid code of conduct sanctions.
Mitchell Marsh said the tactic was more of a joke than a protest, before repeating it in the press conference. "I wouldn't say it was a protest, I'd say it was a great opportunity to give our sponsors a bit of a plug. Qantas, thank you for getting us here safely," he said. "The stump mics really for us players on the field are irrelevant, it's about us as a team getting the ball in the right areas and we don't really worry about that, it was a bit of a joke to give the sponsors a bit of a plug."
AB de Villiers said that while plenty of words had been exchanged on the field, it was not at the same level of aggression he had witnessed in the corresponding series here in 2014. "It was quite nice today," he said. "They were very friendly compared to last time.
"It's the usual stuff. we expect some verbal stuff out there when you're playing cricket in general. It gets the juices flowing. I particularly enjoy it. And from the other side, we also get stuck in and try and unsettle the batters. It's part of the game."
Last year, Kagiso Rabada was banned by the ICC for abusive language after stump microphones caught him giving a send-off during a Test match against England. In 2013, then Australian captain Michael Clarke was given a heavy fine after stump mics caught him telling the England tailender James Anderson to "get ready for a broken f****** arm" when about to face Mitchell Johnson in an Ashes match at the Gabba.
Last year, after a portion of stump microphone audio in which Steven Smith and Matthew Wade were heard exchanging words with India's Ravindra Jadeja was released on the BCCI's website, Smith stated his annoyance at the practice of keeping the microphone faders up at high volume.
"It annoyed me that they had to sieve back through the archives and find those moments, particularly painting a bad light on our team when both teams were guilty of doing the same things. That was disappointing," Smith said. "I think the broadcasters are told over and over again that they need to turn the stump mics down but they keep putting a lot of pressure on and keeping the stump mics on, which is unfortunate."