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 the day after his team landed, Smith urged his players to do whatever it takes for Australia to win their first Test match in India since 2004 when the sides clash on February 23 in 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.
“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.
The Australians, who are coming in off a convincing Test series win against Pakistan, have not won a Test match on Indian soil in nearly 13 years but 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.
One of the key duels of the series will be between Smith and Indian skipper Kohli who is in the form of his life after scoring four double centuries since July.
Kohli is second only to Smith in the Test batting rankings and the Australian captain said he had the utmost respect for his counterpart.
“We’re trying to form a game plan but I’m not going to tell you what it is,” he said.
“He’s obviously a world class player. He’s been batting extremely well. He’s scored four double centuries in his last four series so he’s obviously a big player for India along with a lot of their other batters.”
India, on a high after defeating Bangladesh this week to go 20 Test matches undefeated at home, on Tuesday named an unchanged squad for the first two Australia Tests from the one that beat their neighbours by 208 runs in Hyderabad.
Bangalore, Ranchi and Dharamsala will host the other matches in the four-Test series in March.
India squad: Virat Kohli (captain), Murali Vijay, Lokesh Rahul, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Wriddhiman Saha, Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Ishant Sharma, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Umesh Yadav, Karun Nair, Jayant Yadav, Kuldeep Yadav, Abhinav Mukund, Hardik Pandya