The ugly Australian cricketer is alive and well.

Just when you thought the dark, old days of the snarling, spiky Australians might have been a blight from the past, back it came with a vengeance at Hagley Oval today.

Fast bowler Josh Hazlewood has no previous memorable form for bad behaviour, but the top-class seamer lost the plot shortly before lunch when two umpiring decisions conspired to give key New Zealand batsman Kane Williamson a reprieve.

After umpire Ranmore Martinesz turned an impassioned appeal for lbw down, third umpire Richard Illingworth rejected Australia's referral, leaving Hazlewood and his captain Steve Smith apoplectic.

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"Who the f*** is the third umpire," was Hazlewood's immediate reaction.

Then there were words exchanged with non-striker Corey Anderson as the players headed for the pavilion a couple of minutes later.

The general demeanour of the Australian players drew a sharp retort from the Sky commentary box, where former international Mark Richardson insisted: "I'm sorry, but that is intolerable."

Context is important. Williamson, in Australia's eyes, stood between them and a series-clinching victory and two catches had been dropped in the morning session. The tension was racheting up.

But Hazlewood's behaviour was completely out of order. Smith gave it the full, two-handed teapot as well and let rip an expletive at Martinesz.

There's also the back story.

For all New Zealand's much-discussed and praised spirit of cricket mantra under Brendon McCullum, the Australians think that's a crock. They have made plain they don't like the handshaking, back-slapping nice guy role New Zealand have adopted.

They were irritated before the series in Australia at the start of the summer by McCullum having given both Smith and opener David Warner criticism over their on-field behaviour in two separate instances during Australia's tour of England earlier last year.

Go back further. For some reason, Australia resented New Zealand's politeness during the pool game at last year's World Cup at Eden Park.

With sharp-tonged wicketkeeper Brad Haddin leading the charge, they vowed to give New Zealand both barrels during the final in Melbourne.

Australians are proud of their tradition of playing hard but fair, not crossing the often-referred-to imaginary line from competitive into the unacceptable.

Now remember, New Zealand were completely stiffed in Adelaide with the Nathan Lyon dismissal, given not out by third umpire Nigel Llong.

That was certainly a game changer, as was Doug Bracewell's no ball against Adam Voges in Wellington in the first test. They privately fumed but left it there.

Hazlewood and Smith sensed injustice today and couldn't turn the other cheek and move on without letting rip. Plus ca change.

- By David Leggat in Christchurch