Australian captain Ricky Ponting and his fast bowling spearhead Brett Lee have denied their on-field spat on the fourth day of the team’s 320-run defeat to India was anything more than a heated debate over bowling changes.
Speculation has run wild over the past 24 hours that Lee and Ponting have fallen out after the skipper declined to use Lee during the first session on Monday, a snub that caused the clearly irritated paceman to argue the point vigorously .
Lee’s difficult tour (four wickets at 59.25 in two Tests) followed an emotionally taxing off-season that saw the very public break-up of his marriage.
Australia’s decline to a 0-1 deficit in the series can be traced as much to Lee’s failure to impose himself on the Indian batsmen as anything else.
He and Ponting seemed on extremely icy terms on Monday and the tourists’ subsequent surrender seemed to indicate all was not well within the camp.
However, Ponting and Lee both attempted to clarify the situation, explaining the clash was a matter of over rates, not personalities.
“I have to clarify that quite a bit because it seems like there’s people trying to make a bit more of that than what actually was,” Ponting said.
“I’d made Brett aware yesterday morning he wasn’t going to be bowling first thing in the morning, I let him know it was all to do with wanting to take the pace off the ball early.
“It got to the stage in the middle session where India were on top, scoring runs quickly, our overrate had dropped to five down at one stage, hence Mike Hussey coming on to bowl.
“I guess where it’s fallen down a little bit is that I didn’t communicate that reason to Brett at 11am when he wanted to bowl.
“At that stage we were five overs down, he couldn’t understand why he wasn’t bowling and I made it clear to him from that moment those reasons, so it seems like there’s something going on that there might’ve been something between Brett and I before the game or after the game or at lunch, (but) I can’t make it any clearer than what I just have.
“As we saw when we got our overrate back down to something acceptable. Brett started bowling straight after lunch and did a reasonable job.”
Lee said he had simply become frustrated in making repeated entreaties to his captain about bowling.
“I kept getting Ricky’s eye and saying `Any chance of a bowl?’ … but he said `I’d love to, mate’, but we were three or four overs down at that stage, so we had to bowl Cameron White and Mike Hussey,” Lee told FoxSports before play.
The Lee/Ponting confrontation revived memories of Allan Border’s verbal stoush with fast bowler Craig McDermott in a match early on the 1993 Ashes tour, when the bowler wanted to change ends.
Border’s fiery response was picked up by a television microphone at the boundary’s edge.
“Hey, hey, hey, hey! I’m f***ing talking to you,” Border said.
“Come here, come here, come here, come here… Do that again and you’re on the next plane home, son… What was that? You f***ing test me and you’ll see.”