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‘The Test’ review: Amazon Prime docu-series is all about the Australian cricket team’s path to redemption

Screengrab from ‘The Test’

Screengrab from ‘The Test’   | Photo Credit: Amazon Prime Video

Eight-part series charts the team’s journey following the ball-tampering scandal through an image rebuilding exercise, led by their feisty head coach Justin Langer

On the sidelines of the Perth Test of 2018, Australian captain Tim Paine quietly and cheekily admits to head coach Justin Langer in the dressing room that he broke the team protocol by having a dig at his counterpart Virat Kohli. Paine’s instructions to his team-mates prior was to completely ignore the opposing skipper, a very un-Aussie tactic. Yet, something snapped, and Paine now had to watch his every move thereafter to uphold the new team ethic that banter is fine, so long as it doesn’t cross the line into abuse.

That such revealing private conversations are on record, is thanks to the Australian players and management staff agreeing to allow cameras into the sanctum of the dressing room, in their bid to win back their fans. The Test: A New Era for Australia's Team, an eight-part documentary series streaming on Amazon Prime Video, a project sanctioned by Cricket Australia, gives viewers a fly-on-the-wall account (interspersed with one on one interviews with players, coaches, journalists) of the team’s journey from the bruising 2018 'Sandpapergate' ball-tampering scandal in South Africa till they retain the Ashes next year in England.

The Cape Town scandal led to lengthy bans to two giants – Steve Smith and David Warner – a shorter one to rookie batsman Cameron Bancroft, and the resignation of their coach Darren Lehmann. Whether the punishment fit the crime or not is a discussion for another day, but the fact was that in the eyes of the many in the Australian public, including their Prime Minister, the team’s “boorishness and arrogance” (which their former coach Mickey Arthur had written about) had well and truly hit the fan and it was time for urgent course correction.

The image rebuilding exercise brought a new management team in the feisty Langer as head coach and more amiable and down to earth captains in Tim Paine (Tests) and Aaron Finch (limited-overs). Delivering results was only one part of the job. As important was the need to introspect and self-correct.

The Test: A New Era for Australia's Team
  • Director: Adrian Brown
  • Episodes: 8
  • Storyline: A behind the scenes look at how the Australian men’s cricket team fell from grace and was forced to reclaim its title and integrity

For the passionate Langer, it was challenge inheriting a dressing room with a fear of failure mindset, in contrast to the environment during his playing career. In the first series since Sandpapergate, an inexperienced one-day team gets a 5-0 mauling in England and Langer gives the team a tongue-lashing, belting out the F-word every few seconds, like a scene straight out of Good Will Hunting.

Langer’s brand of tough love was met with resistance initially by the outspoken Usman Khawaja, who had issues with the coach’s handling of the nets sessions. Langer admits privately that he respects Khawaja for his frankness. It’s part of the team’s new ethos of 'Elite Honesty', a curious catchphrase which Langer explained as, "You look a bloke in the eye, tell them the truth and be happy to get some truth back, so that's elite honesty." After losing the Melbourne Test to India, in a forlorn setting, Khawaja tells the coach, “The boys are a bit intimidated by you, Alf.”

 

What makes The Test most compelling is the kind of access director Adrian Brown and his crew were given to go behind closed doors and capture moments of vulnerability and softness. Frustrated batsmen literally let loose by flinging equipment around; Finch finds it ethically wrong to be lecturing his team on scoring more runs while he’s barely getting any himself but the coach tells him it’s okay for a captain to admit he is vulnerable; it’s okay to turn on the waterworks, like when an emotional Nathan Lyon breaks down when handing his close mate Travis Head his Test cap.

Things had gone to such a head for Langer following the series defeat to India that one day over breakfast, he recalled, his wife, broke down seeing the stress he had gone through. The coach himself did a bit of self-correction and learned to let go. He kept emphasising on the mantra of “we” not “me”, stressing on looking out for your mates, putting an arm around the shoulder (the bromance between Marcus Stoinis and Adam Zampa, of course, taking it to another level).

The most riveting scenes are reserved for The Ashes, thanks to the hostile reception the team received with the reintegration of Smith and Warner. The players grin and bear the hecklers at Edgbaston shouting, “Cheats, cheats” and “We saw you crying on the telly,” without any retaliation, a sign that the team had come far in their image rebuilding.

Yet, it’s hard to miss the irony when Langer later whines about the “booing”. Visiting players have copped an awful lot in Australia – ask Stuart Broad – so the Edgbaston heckling was Australian cricket getting a taste of its own bitter medicine.

England and Ben Stokes’s epic jailbreak at Headingley gets considerable airtime. As Australia commit one brainfade after another with England nine wickets down, Langer lets it rip, kicking a trash can and immediately sheepishly stuffing the rubbish back. The dressing room turns into a morgue, and Paine gives the team an earful for stuffing it up.

That the Australians did, eventually, turn the tables on England with Smith getting a standing ovation, lending a fitting finale to The Test. Yet, it doesn’t clearly reveal what the players felt about the team dynamics changing with the Smith-Warner reintegration. Another puzzling omission was that of Kohli gesturing to boisterous Indian fans at the World Cup to stop abusing Smith. It would have been nice to hear what the Australian camp thought.

Documentaries on Australian cricket in transition have always made for interesting viewing, thanks to the quality of footage available. Rookies, Rebels and Renaissance, on the team’s journey through the 1980s, shows how the team found its feet under captain Allan Border following the exodus of players for different reasons. The Test covers a much shorter period, more importantly, shows Australian cricket culture the mirror, in a step towards departing from the toxic culture that had festered.

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Printable version | Apr 2, 2020 3:38:38 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/the-test-review-the-amazon-prime-cricket-docu-series-is-all-about-the-australian-teams-path-to-redemption/article31097735.ece

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