The Test: A New Era for Australia’s Team is a series produced as an original for Amazon Prime Video and co-produced by Cricket Australia. Focussing on the 18-month period following the ball-tampering scandal in South Africa in March 2018, it covers the journey of Australian cricket team through the rebuilding phase of the 2018-19 season to the World Cup and the Ashes in the summer of 2019.
It is a documentary with an emphasis on the background of these events, the team management, led by new coach Justin Langer and new skipper Tim Paine, working out ways to build a new team culture, the impact of sporting events on the players’ personal lives, and how the team strives to go ahead and win the ‘lost’ respect back. It has its fair share of emotional turmoil, drama and conversations around character and team building. In fact, the documentary is less about ‘cricket’ than the lives and times of the Australian cricket team for those eighteen months.
Not every single series from the duration is covered, and the context and stories of cricket (ODIs or Tests) from the games covered are shown from an Australian dressing-room perspective and not from the perspective of the game. For example, James Anderson injured himself during the first session of the Ashes 2019 and that became one of the strongest factors in the way series was decided; however, it is never mentioned in the documentary. Amongst the opposition players only Virat Kohli (given his marketable image) gets screen-time, with some minor focus on Pujara, Archer and Stokes, but otherwise the documentary is all about ‘élite’ principles the team needs to follow to get back on its feet.
Its major strength is showing the players’ emotions. We see the butterflies in the stomach of a debutant like Harris, the determination of the likes of Khawaja against Pakistan, the fears of the older players like Shaun Marsh regarding his future after he gets injured during a net session in the World Cup, some fun moments involving Steve Smith, Labuschagne, etc., and Stoinis-Zampa friendship. It is also interesting to discern the difference in attitudes between the old ‘order’ (Ricky Ponting, Steve Waugh, Langer, Adam Gilchrist), who wish to stay in the ‘moment’, taking one ball at a time and having a stronger mindset when playing cricket, and the ‘new’ players, who, being in the battlefield, show more ‘pragmatism’. The new lot are on the field playing for their careers and striving to get success against stronger teams. So they often take the time to reason their approach with Langer, try to back each other through tough times (Paine standing with the side after the Leeds defeat) and rejoice together in some well-deserved cricketing wins. In fact, the best part of the documentary comes in these ‘celebrations’ after victories (especially after Ashes retention) or ‘ruminations’ over the losses (Langer drinks scotch after a tough loss, which stumps his wife because he doesn’t usually drink scotch).
The behind-the-scenes nature of the documentary makes one recognise the key role played by assistant coaches, physiotherapists and analysts in the success of a side. It also shows the Australian perspective on some great games like the Lords and Leeds test matches, crucial world cup encounters versus India and England, and the home season versus India.
It captures the frustrations of players after missing out in the game, their deep involvement with the side’s fortunes irrespective of whether they are in the playing XI or not, and the team speeches that serve as inspiration to their team-mates. This helps us understand the players better; for example, Mitchell Marsh gives a riveting speech wherein he states that he is ready to back any other team-mate who is down and would personally help them take some time off the game, so they are welcome to join him for a coffee walk anytime. This is one of the things remembered by team-mates as they seek to rebuild ahead of the fourth Ashes test. Marsh’s selflessness becomes more evident by the fact (not mentioned in the documentary) that he played only the last test of the series.
Beyond the first few minutes, the documentary doesn’t involve itself with the ball-tampering scandal. Sure, it is shown as the push for the ‘change’ in the Australian setup and the reason Australia are missing their best batters in Steve Smith and David Warner, but the documentary rather focuses on how the Australian team, an underdog in these circumstances, looks to rebuild and achieve its cricketing goals.
The documentary series seems to focus itself entirely on the redemption arc without fully going into the need for such a change in the team culture in the first place. The history of Australian cricket, the conduct of players and crowds in Australia, or the cricketing culture of the nation (which came under the scanner after the Cape Town scandal) is not touched upon. This affects the objectivity of the documentary, since no particular background is given for the need for Australian players to engage in ‘banter’ instead of abuse. Then later when the Indian captain Virat Kohli is shown ‘sledging’ or the English fans boo or chant ‘cheat’ for Warner or Smith, it is termed as unfair by likes of Langer and others in the Australian management. While there is no defence for abusive conduct, without the background (Sandpapergate), the documentary seems to become one-side traffic, narrating the events from only the Australian perspective.
Nevertheless, The Test manages to stand out as there aren’t many ‘cricketing documentaries’ detailing the inner workings of a cricketing side in such detail. It is a compelling watch for devotees of the game and remains uncomplicated yet engaging enough for viewers not deeply invested in cricket.
Disclaimer: This article has not been written by Film Companion’s editorial team.