The Test - Phoenix from The Ashes
Once in a while the stars align, and my twin loves of movies and cricket come together in something that is worth watching. This past week was to have seen the release of 83, the cinematic retelling of India's finest sporting hour, when an underdog team of no-hopefuls brought down the mighty Windies, won the cricket World Cup, and changed Indian and world cricket forever. I had been waiting for it since it had been announced three years ago by director Kabir Khan and star Ranveer Singh, along with the actual members of that World Cup winning squad. (You can watch the entire fun-filled evening here ) That review will now have to await till that movie finally releases, but meanwhile salvation was at hand in the form of The Test: A New Era for Australia's Team, an 8-episode docu-series on Amazon Prime.
It's the classic sports story of overcoming the odds, going from nadir to zenith, camaraderie (or mateship as the Aussies call it), agony and ecstasy, and We before Me. It kicks off with the infamous ball tampering scandal at the Newlands Test in Cape Town, South Africa in March 2018. That singular act, so simplistic and clumsily foolish in its execution, was caught by live TV cameras and beamed around the world. In one fell swoop, it led to the axing of the quirky, full of phantom tics captain Steve Smith, the dashing, mercurial opener David Warner, batsman Cameron Bancroft and coach Darren Lehmann. Cricket Australia turned to flinty former opener Justin Langer, known simply as JL, to take the reins as coach and bring back a team that was down and out. From there to a couple of series with India, the 2019 World Cup and culminating with retaining the Ashes, is the saga that plays out over the next 18 months.
It affords a rare look at the painstaking planning, the detailed analytics of every player of one's own and the opposition that dictates the line and length of the bowlers down to the meter, and the thoughts behind team strategy and player selection. What gets you really engrossed as a fan of the game, however, is the behind the scenes human drama that plays out in real time in the dressing room. The sheer joy of a crisply hit boundary or a fast bowler cartwheeling the off stump out of the ground, or the despair of watching a lethally fast and vicious Joffra Archer bouncer knocking a batsman to the ground, lying motionless and concussed. We as fans feel the same emotions, but what the series shows is that they pale in comparison to those of the teammates. There are team meetings where you cringe and yourself want to curl up in a ball and disappear. The most memorable one is after the great "truth is stranger than fiction" heist by Ben Stokes at Headingley, of the Third Test of the Ashes of the summer of 2019, when requiring 73 runs to win at the fall of the ninth wicket, snatched one of the most improbable and thrilling wins to make England win and square the series 1-1. To watch Nathan Lyon's face, as he watches the replay of himself messing up the simplest of run-outs that would have won the game and the series for his team, is more excruciating than a root canal.
As a die-hard India "bleed blue" fan, there are times when, of course, one gets a thrill at seeing the mighty Aussies undergoing strife, especially when India for the first time in its Test history, won a series Down Under at the end of 2018. And it warms the heart when they speak in glowing terms of the strength and capabilities of the Indian team. At some point, however, you lose sight of all of that and just soak in the pleasure of the game and the human story playing out. The bromance of Stoinis and Zampa bonding over a piping hot cup of freshly ground and self-made filter coffee, the young Jedi Labuschagne learning from the un-Zen master Smith, the goofy antics of Mitch Marsh, the toastmaster Lyon, the thrill and exhilaration of a debutant getting their baggy green cap from a past legend of the game, and the roller coaster ride the families go thru. It's all there in a series that will have you saying "Good on ya, mate".
April 22, 2020