Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo
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The mutually-agreed-upon line in this series seems to be drawn at swearing, and despite all the hype around the chatter between the two teams, the two captains are happy with each other's behaviour. Since the third day, which featured Virat Kohli's displeasure at the contentious low catch that dismissed him and his banter with Tim Paine later in the day, the clamour for the next exchange has reached a fever pitch, ending with the host broadcaster advertising a clip of Ishant Sharma and Ravindra Jadeja having an animated discussion as a sign of all not being well within the Indian camp.
Jasprit Bumrah had said after the third day's play that India were surprised that the soft signal, in the case of the low catch to dismiss Kohli, was out, but Kohli seemed to have gotten over it by the end of the match. "I don't think I showed any displeasure at the dismissal at all," Kohli said. "A call was made on the field, and that's it. It was done. Australia played better cricket than us, and they deserved to win."
Kohli's reading of the banter was plain: "As long as there is no swearing, the line doesn't get crossed. That's it."
In one of the exchanges, when the umpires tried to restrain him and Kohli, Paine was heard telling the umpires it was just conversation, and that there was nothing wrong with that. Paine reiterated that, and seemed to agree with Kohli that as long as nobody swore or got personal, it was fine. "That is the main part. I don't think the amount of it matters, it's the nature of it and the language," Paine said. "What is said is important, not how much."
A lot was said, or possibly observed, because everybody is on the lookout. Kohli told Paine he was staring at 2-0 if he messed up when batting in the second innings. He also allegedly told Paine he was the best player in the world, and Paine just a stand-in captain, a claim denied to ESPNcricinfo by Indian team management. In retort, Kohli was reminded he was batting last, "big head". M Vijay was asked how could he possibly like Kohli "as a bloke". A lot of it went on, but neither side has reported any personal abuse on the field.
"I don't think we did touch to be honest," Paine said of the near chest-bump. "It got pretty close. But it is what it is. It was a highly competitive Test match from both teams. There's a lot on the line, and both teams desperately want to win, and sometimes that stuff happens."
When Paine was dismissed on the fourth afternoon, he turned back to look as he walked back, but he clarified there had been no send-off. "I actually had spoken about a crack to KL Rahul about two minutes before I got out, so he said did that came off it," Paine said. "Nothing, not a send-off."
Paine dismissed the idea that it might be annoying to play against Kohli, who loves, and sometimes goes looking for, a confrontation. "Not to me, I love it," Paine said. "I enjoy watching him, I always have. I think he brings out the competitive spirit in a lot of people, which is great, and I'm sure it was great to watch."
One of the underlying threads of the chatter is the medium through which it has reached homes. The scrutiny from the cameras and the stump mics seems unparalleled. The invasiveness can sometimes affect how players behave, and also play. Kohli said there was no threat of that happening to him.
"As long as there is no swearing out there on the field and there is no personal attacks, the line doesn't get crossed," Kohli said. "There is banter going on. Even at Adelaide there was banter here and there… it's Test cricket at the end of the day, it has to be competitive. You can't say that people aren't going to try and get you out in any way possible at all.
"With the stump mics and cameras and all these things, honestly when the bowler is bowling you aren't thinking whether the stump mic is on or the camera is on or not. And when you are facing that ball, literally there is no one in the stadium apart from you and that ball. So, these things are totally irrelevant, and you are actually not aware of them when you are on the field. It's never bothered me, it's never been something that's of importance to me to be honest. For me it's irrelevant."
For all the talk of banter, this is perhaps the best-natured Australia-India series Kohli has been a part of. "Nothing compared to 2014 to be honest," Kohli said. "But look, it stays on the field whatever happens. In competitive spirit it stays on the field, I am not going to go into details but to be honest it's not of importance for me to speak on and it's something that's done. We are looking forward to Melbourne now."
Whatever happens, at the end of the series, there will be a beer or 35 shared between the sides at the end of the series. At least there will be an invite from the Australian side. "Tonight ? No," Paine said, when asked if the custom was to invite the opposition for beers after every Test. "We definitely will after the series. That's always been the thing that has happened, and will always be the case."