MUMBAI: Australian captain Steve Smith raised the temperature Tuesday ahead of the first Test against India, calling on his players to “go for it” with the verbal volleys and on-field aggression.
India-Australia series are notoriously feisty affairs — the 2008 contest Down Under was almost called off following the infamous “Monkeygate” incident as animosity between the old foes threatened to boil over.
There was then further bad blood during India’s Test and one-day series in Australia prior to the 2015 World Cup when heated on-field exchanges led to several players being penalised.
But ace batsman Smith urged his players to do whatever it takes to win the four-Test series, which starts on February 23 in the western Indian city of Pune.
“I think each of our individuals play the way they play and if they want to get into a battle verbally then, if that gets the best out of them, go for it,” he told reporters in Mumbai.
“It’s all about us making sure that as individuals we’re in the right mindset to go out and succeed and if guys want to get in those kind of battles then go for it.
However, Australia captain emphasised the importance of skill over verbal spats.
“But in the end it’s about us playing on skill and making sure that our skills are in the best place for us to succeed in these conditions,” added the 27-year-old.
Relations between the old foes neared breaking point nine years ago when Indian spinner Harbhajan Singh was suspended for three matches for allegedly calling Australian all-rounder Andrew Symonds a “monkey” during the New Year’s Test in Sydney.
The ban was overturned when India threatened to quit the tour, claiming Singh had been wrongly accused.
The hostility between the sides extended into India’s 2014-15 tour of Australia which saw India’s Virat Kohli, Ishant Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan, and the hosts’ Mitchell Starc, charged with breaching the International Cricket Council’s Code of Conduct.
Australia opener David Warner, who had heated on-field exchanges with India batsman Rohit Sharma with the Australian telling him to “speak English” was reported in both the Test and one-day series.
After Pune, Australia go to Bangalore, Ranchi and Dharamsala for the other three Tests in March.
Smith urged his players to go out and achieve a career-defining victory.
“I think all of the guys are really excited about what’s to come in the next six weeks. It’s a great challenge to play here in India. We know that if we can pull something off and win a series here we’ll look back in 10-20 years and it will be some of the best time of our lives,” he said.