Ricky Ponting: "Harbhajan Singh has plenty to say on the field and then whenever someone says something back to him, he is the first one to run away from it" © Getty Images

The tone had been set before the first ball of the series was bowled. Andrew Symonds said he was spurred by India's elaborate Twenty20 victory celebrations. Robin Uthappa said India would challenge Australia and fight "fire with fire".

They did not turn out to be empty words. Tempers and emotions were freely expressed during the second one-dayer in Kochi and though Chris Broad, the match referee, did not dock anyone's match fees, he did speak to the two captains, Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Adam Gilchrist, about the standard of on-field behaviour.

That was two days ago. Since then the action off the field has kept everybody entertained. Symonds said he was "disappointed" with Sreesanth's behaviour and Harbhajan Singh said he was subjected to "personal and vulgar" words. Ricky Ponting, who is due to make a return in the third ODI, made an effort to downplay the issue, but did not refrain from taking on Harbhajan, who had said there was "nothing gentlemanly about the way they [Australia] play".

"I don't really care what he [Harbhajan] has to say, to tell you the truth," Ponting said on the eve of the third ODI. "He has plenty to say on the field and then whenever someone says something back to him, he is the first one to run away from it. We play our cricket in a nice aggressive way and we play within the rules and within the spirit of the game. I don't really know what happened the other day but if you look at his [Harbhajan's] record and Sreesanth's record over the last few years they have been involved in a lot of those altercations."

Ponting also suggested India's aggression was a façade and not the natural way they play. While the Indians have matched Australia in verbal duels, they have lagged behind in terms of cricketing skills on display in Bangalore and Kochi.

"Aggression doesn't mean sledging or giving a personal barrage, it is having a presence on the field and playing good, aggressive cricket," Ponting said. "They are the ones who have come out and made all the statements since we've been here, this new India and the new aggressive outlook, the way they are going to play.

"That is not the way they generally play their cricket, so they have put on some sort of a brave face. We will go and play the best aggressive cricket we can and leave all the talking to the Indians. We have played some great cricket. I am looking forward to playing some better cricket."

Despite the altercations involving Sreesanth, Brad Haddin, Symonds and Harbhajan, Ponting said that "nobody stepped out of the line". "I think both teams were right on the limit the other day and the referee made that pretty clear to us after the game. Both sides were right on the edge. As long as cricket is played in the right way and everyone knows where the line is, it is okay. It is up to us as a playing group and the two captains to make sure everyone is playing in the spirit of the game."

George Binoy is an editorial assistant on Cricinfo