India vs Australia: A history of on-field controversies

From Gavaskar's MCG walkout to Smith's 'brain fade', a look at the moments of bad blood between the teams down the years.

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It is the best and worst of cricket one will ever get to see. In the past two decades, India vs Australia contests have produced engaging cricketing moments and also some of its ugliest controversies, both on and off the field.

Ahead of the first Test between India and Australia at Adelaide Oval this week, here’s a look at the moments of bad blood between the teams down the years.

ALSO READ: 15 controversies that stained Border-Gavaskar Trophy

Gavaskar’s walkout at the MCG 

Sunil Gavaskar once famously said that India were up against 13 men when playing against Australia in Australia. In a way, the bad blood between the two teams can be traced back to the match at the MCG in 1981 where Gavaskar was the captain. He led his opening partner Chetan Chauhan off the field in protest of an umpiring decision when he was adjudged leg before off Dennis Lillee. Gavaskar later said that it was not the decision but personal abuse on Lillee’s part that triggered him to walk off.

ALSO READ: Australia favourites to beat India in Test series: Ajinkya Rahane

Tendulkar lbw McGrath 

One of the most contentious decisions in an Australia vs India match was given by the umpire Daryl Harper against Sachin Tendulkar when he ducked into a ball from Glenn McGrath and was struck on the shoulder while he was crouching. Immediately the media, former players and fans fumed (Imagine what would have happened it Twitter had been around in 1999!)

The matter was given great detail and viewed from various angles and played its part in the removal of neutral umpires.

Michael Slater had a few choice words for S Venkataraghavan in Mumbai
Michael Slater had a few choice words for S Venkataraghavan in Mumbai. @AFP

Slater lays into Venkat

The first Test of that unforgettable 2000-01 series began with the touring team pummelling India at the Wankhede Stadium. It also saw a very ugly confrontation between Australia opener Michael Slater and umpire S Venkataraghavan – an incident that to this day is remembered for Slater’s unsportsmanlike conduct.

The altercation happened after Slater claimed a diving catch off a mistimed shot from Rahul Dravid. The batsman refused to budge, not convinced by Slater’s attempt. Venkat, the former India captain, gave Dravid not out after replays showed a considerable element of doubt. An incensed Slater claimed it was a clean catch and then lost his cool, walking over to Venkat and wagging his finger in his face. Dravid got a mouthful of abuse too, which resulted in a fine for Slater.

Ganguly makes Waugh wait 

Another undercurrent of tension during that series was the late arrival of Sourav Ganguly for the toss. Writing in his autobiography, Out of My Comfort Zone, Steve Waugh recalled how he was “wound up” by Ganguly’s “continued petulance” in being late for the toss. The Australian icon alleged that his counterpart was late for the toss “seven times” during the series. Years later, Ganguly said that it was not a deliberate tactic. Waugh and his team-mates didn’t buy it for a moment.


During the Sydney Test between India and Australia in January 2008, Andrew Symonds had accused Harbhajan Singh of calling him a “monkey”. Tensions heated up between the two teams on the field, and Harbhajan was handed a three-Test ban from match referee Mike Procter under the suspicion that he had uttered a racist remark to Symonds. The ban was overturned after a hearing, with Harbhajan denying any wrongdoing against the backdrop of the BCCI threatening to leave the tour.

According to Symonds, the SCG Test was not the first time Harbhajan had abused him.
The infamous ‘monkeygate’ scandal at the SCG in 2008 soured relations between India and Australia. @Getty

India c Benson b Bucknor

Symonds scored 162 in the SCG Test and was thrice wrongly adjudged not out by umpire Steve Bucknor. The match saw numerous horrendous umpiring decisions with India at the receiving end. During India’s chase, Dravid was given out caught behind while his bat was behind his pads. Later, Ganguly was caught by Michael Clarke at slip. The ball seemed to have brushed the turf before carrying to the fielder. Instead of opting for replays, Benson chose to trust Ponting’s words.

After India’s controversial defeat, captain Kumble was forced to say, “Only one team is playing in the spirit of the game.” Bucknor was removed from remainder of the series. The Sydney Test threatened relations between the two nations.

Gambhir elbows Watson 

The third Test of the 2008-09 Border-Gavaskar Trophy saw Gautam Gambhir hit a very fine double-century in what proved the last match of Anil Kumble’s illustrious career. It also witnessed a couple showdowns with the Australians.

During his innings, Gambhir, angered by Shane Watson’s relentless sledging, elbowed the bowler while coming back for a second run. Earlier, Watson instigated Gambhir by shoving a clenched fist towards him during the first run, and in return got elbowed by Gambhir.

Gambhir was banned for a Test, while Watson escaped with a 10% fine on his match fees. “The decision to find Gambhir guilty of a level two offence is indicative of the fact that any degree of physical contact is unacceptable,” said match referee Chris Broad.

Virat Kohli and Steve Smith were involved in a war of words during the 2017 series
Virat Kohli and Steve Smith were involved in a war of words during the 2017 series. @AFP

Fiery Kohli, ignorant Smith and DRSgate

No. 1 ranked India were expected to whitewash Australia in the 2016-17 series. However, Steve Smith’s tourists surprised all by winning the first Test, and even went on to dominate the first three days of the second Test.

Smith and Kohli were expected to grab headlines throughout the series for their run-making abilities. They did after the Test ended but for different reasons. Smith was trapped lbw during Australia’s chase. He looked at the dressing-room to seek help if he should review it or not. At this stage Kohli stepped in and fumingly reminded Smith that he cannot do that before umpire Nigel Llong stepped in and reminded the same to Smith.

Kohli accused Smith of deliberately seeking help from the dressing room. Kohli had stated that he had twice seen Australians seeking help from the dressing-room for DRS referrals and almost called Australians ‘cheats’.

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