When India take on Australia, there's often more than just the cricket. Australia's string of match-winning players always had the ability to rattle rivals with bat, ball and mouth. For a while, some of India's more gifted cricketers stood up and tried to match them at these 'mental disintegration' tactics. But in a post-Sydneygate world, with both teams in transition, will the sparks fly like old times?
The greatest sportsmen, some might argue, are often the greatest at terrifying opponents. We watch these stars, mesmerized, as skill, ferocity and attitude combine in dazzling proportions to help pave the way to victory, sometimes even at all costs.
Some winners are subtle in this intimidation, their mere presence enough to cause a flutter. Think Tiger Woods. Federer. Tendulkar. Jordan. Billie Jean King. Others are more brazen, less popular with opponents, more scary. Ali. Sonny Liston. Tyson. The All Blacks. The West Indies pacers of yore. Shaquille O'Neil. Sehwag. Jeff Thomson. And the Australian cricket team.
For a very large part of their colourful - and highly successful - existence, Australian cricketers combined the seemingly contradictory qualities of boorish behaviour and beautiful play to an irritatingly perfect blend. When required, they could get under the skin of their opponents with the mouth; at other times they would attack relentlessly with the bat, or be metronomically accurate with the ball till cracks appeared in the opposition stronghold.
On the cricket field, everyone fears the 'Ugly Australian' from as far back as the Ian Chappell days, maybe even before that. Some nurse a grudging admiration of this 'Australian Way', the way of "playing hard but fair". Others like Gavaskar, Ranatunga, Miandad, Lara or Kumble will argue that Australians simply take things too far.
In India, the scales are tilted towards the latter viewpoint, even though, for a large part, the Australians were so better on the field that other negatives often fell by the wayside.
This changed, slowly but surely, over the past decade-and- half.
Suitably emboldened by the awareness that some of their players could match, or even better Aussie might in any conditions, Indian cricket shed its self-effacing nature. Some players started riling up the Aussies.
It didn't make for a pretty sight and often tarnished the public image of both teams, but these volatile, high-quality contests lent an alluring sheen to the India-Australia rivalry. India fought with as much pride as the Aussies did, and audiences lapped it up.
Suddenly, India were close to decoding the 'Aussie Way' - match them skill for skill, as far as possible, then turn their verbal volleys back at them. The bullies, after all, are never good at being bullied.
Both sides were flirting with danger, upping the ante or playing to the galleries at every opportunity. Then Sydneygate 2008 struck and everything went haywire. It had crossed all bounds of decent behaviour and a stalemate was called. In trying to best the Aussies at their own game, India had discovered they were being uncharacteristic.
A strange thing happened to Australia too. As public clamour grew and their behaviour came under increased criticism, the Aussie cricketers tempered their attitude on the field and paid the price.
In December 2010, the then-chief executive of the Australian Cricketers' Association, Paul Marsh, suggested rival teams were exploiting Australia's post-Sydney "fear to sledge". India had decoded the 'Aussie Way' for everyone - keeping a lid on it never worked for the Australians.
Restraint is the clarion call these days, but there's another important reason for that: attitude is nothing without ability. The protagonists of those fiery battles have all but disappeared, replaced by greenhorns on both sides who have yet to display the full extent of their wares.
The captains for the upcoming series - Michael Clarke and MS Dhoni - have seen this transition in attitude first-hand, but they are also unsure of the potential of their own teams. India's sorry performance in Australia dented the once-formidable reputation of the team. Clarke has a bunch of rookies at his disposal. The pre-series posturing is naturally down to a minimum.
Yet, Dhoni can still pick a leaf out of the Aussie book and adopt a more attacking approach in Tests. Maybe other things will then fall in place, and a storied rivalry can regain its sheen.