It took only one show of defiance, one partnership of positive intent, between the unlikeliest of protagonists, lasting less than an hour-and-a-half, worth a mere 80 runs to get right under the skins of the Australians. So far the noises emanating from the Australians have been so sweet they would have made a diabetic shudder. But once Harbhajan Singh and Zaheer Khan stood in the way old habits, not particularly pleasant ones, came flooding back for the Australian team.
Just as an afternoon shower threatened to stop play, Brad Haddin - who did not have the best of days, conceding as many as 23 byes – began the chirping. He said something to Zaheer, which the batsmen did not appreciate, and some frantic gesticulations began out in the middle. Zaheer tried to get Haddin off his back, but failed to do so, and was forced to seek umpire Asad Rauf's assistance. Harbhajan calmed Zaheer down, and Michael Hussey appeared to have a word with Haddin, and things quietened down as the players walked off the field with rain coming down.
Perhaps the Australians had not heard of what has come to be known as the jellybean incident in England last year when a riled-up Zaheer bowled India to victory, but Haddin's verbals certainly did not have their desired effect. Zaheer merely buckled down and concentrated harder when the players returned after the break.
In the past the Australian team has not been shy of using specific players to do the talking and on the day the second designated aggressor seemed to be Shane Watson. Even when he was being swatted around the park, Watson kept coming down the pitch in his follow-through, swearing and getting unnecessarily close to the batsmen. This time a line had been crossed and Rauf went across to Ricky Ponting to have a word, telling the Australian captain to keep his men in check.
In all this the Australians barely said a word to the man who was doing the most damage, Harbhajan, whose unorthodox hitting was backed up by some uncharacteristically correct defensive play. In the past the Australians have been quick to try and rile up Harbhajan, but perhaps Sydney – and the resulting fracas – has made them wary of setting a fire under the volatile offie.
The final needle came when the two umpires offered the light to the batsmen soon after Harbhajan was dismissed and Anil Kumble and Zaheer instantly accepted it. As the two were walking off, Haddin and Matthew Hayden made it a point to sidle up to the outgoing pair. Even as they were being stoically ignored Haddin and Hayden had a go, and when they got no response, snickered exaggeratedly at the players' decision to walk off.