Trevor Bayliss, England's coach, dismissed media allegations of ball-tampering as mere "pommie-bashing" after television footage appeared to show James Anderson digging his fingernail into the ball on a rain-affected fourth day of the fourth Test in Melbourne.
The incident was picked up by Australia's Channel Nine commentary team early in Australia's second innings, and circulated widely among the local media, including the news arm of Cricket Australia's official website.
"I'm not sure you are allowed to use your fingernail there," Shane Warne said during the live coverage. His co-commentator, Michael Slater, added: "That's interesting, you can't get your nail into the ball. That's a no-no." Mike Hussey, another former Australia cricketer working for the outlet, predicted that Anderson might be asked to explain his actions to the match referee, Ranjan Madugalle. However, an ICC spokesman later confirmed that no action would be taken.
The England management took issue with the tone of the initial reports, and the use of the word "ball tampering" was removed from some headlines, with Fox Sports later apologising to the team for their interpretation of the story.
The fact that Anderson's fingernail appeared to be working on the shiny side of the ball rather undermined the allegations that he was seeking to adversely alter its condition, as Bayliss pointed out while dismissing the story as a "beat-up" [made-up] when he spoke to the media at the close of play.
"As soon as I saw it during the rain break, I went to the umpires to find out what was going on," Bayliss told BT Sport. "And in their words it was a beat-up. You're allowed to clean the ball and that's what we were doing. There was no problem at all, they said."
However, on a tour that has already featured head-butts, beer throwing, matchfixing allegations and a sledging row, a ball-tampering rumpus was the missing incident on the series bingo card.
"We've had a good couple of days and there was no too much positive press for them, so it was a bit of pommie-bashing I suppose," said Bayliss. "But we are used to that. We knew when we came out it was going to be 24 million versus 11, and we just have to laugh it off."
An England spokesman confirmed that Anderson had been legitimately pushing down a loose bit of leather, in full view of the umpires, using the back of his fingernail so as to avoid transferring any moisture from his fingertips.
An ICC spokesman later added that no report had been issued by the umpires. However, both sides were spoken to about the tactic of scuffing the ball on the wicket ends when throwing it in from the outfield, a tactic that is commonly used by most international teams when attempting to hasten the onset of reverse swing.
"It has been both teams," said Bayliss. "To get the ball to go reverse, one side has to be rough, the other smooth and dry, so all teams around the world try to get it reversing as soon as possible. The umpires don't want it to be too over the top, so a quiet word to both captains soon stops it."
The incident had echoes of a similar flare-up in Australia's 2016-17 home season, when South Africa's Faf du Plessis was caught on camera sucking a sweet and rubbing saliva on the ball. On that occasion he was found guilty by an ICC hearing and fined his match fee.