Get your hazmat suits out because this series is threatening to go nuclear.

After a relatively civil back-and-forth between skippers Tim Paine and Virat Kohli last night, the rival stars' spat changed flavour early on day four.

Kohli, back arched and eager to squash Australia's growing lead in the morning session, let loose a sledging barrage worthy of David Warner from the slips cordon.

Paine and partner Usman Khawaja were struggling to get the ball off the square in the first session, prompting some verbal haymakers from Kohli.

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"Yeah, I'm no good," Paine told Kohli after what appeared to be a jab at his batting ability.

"We can't all be The King."

The banter became more heated next over as Kohli stationed himself at mid-on and kept badgering Paine, who wasn't having a bar of it. Umpire Chris Gaffaney stepped in and tried to put an end to it.

"Oi, that's enough, that's enough," he said.

"Play the game. You guys are the captains."

Paine didn't seem too pleased at being told to pipe down, claiming there was nothing wrong with what he was doing.

"We're allowed to talk. We can have a conversation. There's no swearing," he said.

Paine was heard having a crack at Kohli before the umpire intervened, saying: "You're the one who lost it yesterday, why are you trying to be cool today? Keep your cool, Virat."

Kohli flirted with the umpire's wrath shortly after by getting in the road of Paine and colliding with the Aussie batsman as he dashed through for a single.

Virat Kohli and Tim Paine had to be separated by umpire Chris Gaffaney. Photo / Getty
Virat Kohli and Tim Paine had to be separated by umpire Chris Gaffaney. Photo / Getty

"That's too far. You do that, you go too far," Aussie cricket journalist Peter Lalor said.

"You get into someone else's physical space and it gets dangerous."

The spat became a hot topic of conversation among cricketing pundits, particularly after Australia's cultural overhaul prior to the summer, which followed the lengthy Longstaff review into the behaviour of the men's cricket team on the field.

Former Aussie quick Mitchell Johnson slammed Kohli for going back on his word of keeping it zipped on Aussie shores.

"Coming into the series and saying he wouldn't initiate these kinds of stoushes and we saw a lot of that yesterday, the initiation when the bowlers were doing well and getting into Tim Paine," Johnson said on Fox Cricket.

Johnson said he'd spoken to the Australian team and revealed Kohli had gone up to the umpire complaining about Paine sledging.

"Look, I don't mind the battles out there but if you're going to say something like that in the papers or in the media and go against your word you've to expect something in return."

"I know, just speaking to a couple of the boys that Virat was going to the umpire and telling the umpire that, 'Tim Paine is talking to me, can you tell him to stop,' which I found quite interesting after what happened yesterday," he said.

Former England skipper Michael Vaughan said Johnson's appraisal shone an ugly spotlight on Kohli for the rest of the match.

"Mitchell's just stitched him (Kohli) up and he's snitching on Tim Paine to the umpire so that will make it a little bit more interesting when India go out to bat," he said.

ABC Offsiders panelist Richard Hinds applauded Paine's resolve in the tense situation.

"Paine (is) handling this superbly. Not cowering but not taking the bait. Elite skippering," Hinds tweeted.

Barely a month ago Kohli claimed he was a changed man and wouldn't be starting anything on the field, insisting his side would play ball if the home side wanted to play a more subdued series.

"If they (Australia) want to play a certain way, we will reciprocate," the Indian skipper said at a pre-series press conference.

"That is how the game of cricket goes. But at the same time, in our own minds we have to keep it competitive ... on a personal level, I don't find the need to go and find these things anymore.

"We were always the ones giving it back, we were never the ones starting anything."
Unsurprisingly, the behaviour from the opposition skipper had some commentators claiming double standards.

"Kohli ran to the spot where Paine was naturally running through. It was a deliberate niggling action. He can't help himself. If an Aussie behaved like this, they'd get crucified," Courier Mail writer Greg Davis tweeted.