Tuesday, August 25, 2020

The Test

The Test is a 8-part documentary chronicling the journey of the Australian Men’s cricket team over a period of 18 months from the lows of the ball-tampering scandal in 2018 to the high of retaining the Ashes away from home in late-2019. For a cricket tragic like yours truly, all the events depicted are familiar. Yet, that doesn’t take away any of the excitement of re-living the events. 

These were extra-ordinary times for Australian cricket. Over the years Australian teams had been pushing the lines of the sportsman spirit – something which Steve Waugh famously called “mental disintegration”. But in Newlands, they were caught literally with their hands in their pants! The repercussion of being branded cheats in public were huge. Long bans for Smith, Warner & Bancroft and resignation of head coach Lehmann. Cricket Australia needed a thorough overhaul of the system. 

It is at this point which “The Test” begins. No doubt a good PR exercise in collaboration with Amazon to redeem the image of Australian cricket. On the cricketing front, Justin Langer took over as coach, with Tim Paine as the captain. After a while Paine, who was surplus to the limited overs set-up handed over the ODI & T20I reins to Aaron Finch. Retired legends like Ponting, Steve Waugh, Gilchrist, Haddin came into consulting roles. 

Initially the team struggles in filing the voids caused by the bans of their best players. But over time, new players put up their hands and take the place. The path is difficult, and they take baby steps. They celebrate their little successes – a hard-earned draw, a home Test victory, a Home Test series victory, an away ODI series victory in India, a semi-final finish in the World Cup and finally retaining the Ashes away from home! And it’s not just the on-field performances, there is also a change in the approach to the game. As Harsha Bhogle said, you can’t keep any Australian team down for too long! 

And there is the parallel track of Steve Smith – relieved from captaincy and banned for a year, makes a comeback, faces the boos of the crowds, but with his on-field exploits manages to turn the jeers into cheers. In between also gets knocked out while batting! Quite a phoenix like rise from the ashes for him. 

Then there is the story of the rise of Tim Paine. From being seen as a stand-in captain to becoming an Ashes winning captain, earning the respect of a nation in a job considered as the second-most important in Australia after the Prime Minister. 

Throughout the series, there is a recurring narrative of being together and helping each other out. Someone even remarks that this was a happy & united team despite continuously losing! “Elite Mateship” is a term which they come up with. However, Adam Zampa & Marcus Stoinis take it to a different level altogether! 

They take potshots at Virat Kohli for his on-field gestures & in your face aggression in Australia. But for some reason they miss the footage of him asking Indian fans not to boo Smith during the World Cup. Sometimes when you get too worked up into building a narrative that you forget the balance in it. However, Eoin Morgan’s interview is shown where he responds in negative when asked whether he would ask the fans to stop booing Warner & Smith! 

Massive defeats are easier to live with than the ones that slipped away. England running 481 in an ODI and beating Australia by 200+ runs margin was easier to accept. While Ben Stokes’ heist at Edgbaston was a bitter pill to swallow! 

There were a couple of lines which stood out for me. And this is something which we can incorporate in our everyday life (and work). 
  1. Nathan Lyon talking about how celebrating every win is important. Because you never know if that would be your last win. 
  2. Ricky Ponting berating David Warner, asking him what he had won that he was afraid of losing. 
So that was “The Test”. A must-watch for every cricket tragic! 

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