The Test is an 8 part docu-series, brought to screens by Amazon Prime, and looks at the events after the sandpaper-gate controversy during the South Africa series, the resurgence of the team post the suspension of David Warner and Steven Smith, led by new head coach Justin Langer.
Amazon Prime, over the course of the past few years, has successfully ventured into creating insightful sports-documentaries, chronicling the blood and sweat that goes behind the success, and failures of some of the biggest sporting institutions around the world.
- A team in transition
- Langar’s tough love and the road ahead
- Moments in the series
- The biggest challenge there was
Their docu-series All or Nothing, about then English Premier Champions Manchester City, is especially noteworthy.
With The Test, they successfully manage to bring their expertise into creating an all-access, fascinating docu-series about the most successful cricket team in the world. But unlike many powerhouse Australian teams in the past, this series looks at the difficult road that lay ahead for the men in yellow.
A team in transition
The Test shows a team in transition, and when they lost their most experienced players, Steven Smith and David Warner, after the sandpaper-gate in South Africa, the journey was going to be more than uphill. For people who don’t know what sandpaper-gate was, it was the ball tampering incident that took place during the third Test match against South Africa at Newlands in Cape Town, in March 2018.
Cameron Bancroft was caught by television cameras trying to rough up one side of the ball with sandpaper to make it swing in flight. Captain Steve Smith and vice-captain David Warner were found to be involved and all three received unprecedented sanctions from Cricket Australia.
Although he was found not to have been directly involved, Australia’s coach, Darren Lehmann, announced he would step down from his role following the scandal. Whether the punishment was just or not, is a discussion for later, but the Australian team was under the scanner.
The team just didn’t need rebuilding, and become successful again, but they needed an image rebuilding. Smith was replaced by Tim Paine as Test captain, and Aaron Finch as T20I and ODI captain.
And the biggest responsibility was handed over to Justin Langer, who replaced Lehman as the head coach of the team. This is where the documentary begins.
Langar’s tough love and the road ahead
The road ahead for Justin Langer and co. was obviously not going to be easy, and Langer’s first series in charge was too harsh a reality check to begin with. An ODI series against England ended in a 5-0 thrashing for the team, and behind the scenes with an F-word rant from their coach. Langer didn’t hold back.
Langer’s tough love was met with some resistance. Post the Melbourne Test loss to India, Usman Khwaja confronts Langer with the concern, telling him that the boys were intimidated by him. He also voices his concerns about the way net sessions were going. Though, Langer lets Khwaja know who the boss his, he privately lauds the opener and respects 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.”
And Langer is not the only one trying to find his gear in steering this inexperienced squad in the right direction. Aaron Finch, the ODI and T20i captain is also finding it difficult to come to terms with his dwindling form. His admission during a drop in form that he finds it ethically wrong to be lecturing his team on scoring more runs while he’s barely getting any himself is a reflection of pure human emotions.
A learning lesson to see that even the most successful and gifted players can go through testing times. Langer appreciates the vulnerability that Finch displays as captain.
But these are not the only vulnerable moments in The Test.
Moments in the series
Some moments are beautiful and truly heart-touching. One that specifically takes the cake is when an emotional Nathan Lyon breaks down when handing his close mate Travis Head his Test cap.
Langers’ phone call to his wife after the series loss to India, where his wife breaks down listening to her husband going through stress, is another worth mentioning. There are many lighter moments too. Adam Zampa and Marcus Stoinis’s friendship is adorable, their love for coffee and goofing around when the going gets smoother for the team, and truly bring a smile on the face.
But obviously, the biggest challenge and the most riveting moments in the docu-series come during the World Cup, and even more when The Ashes begins.
Both these tournaments being held on the home turf of their fiercest rivals, England, were only going to make things challenging. Not to forget, these tournaments also announced the comebacks of the two suspended players, David Warner and Steven Smith.
When they took the pitch for the first time, there was obviously going to be heckling, and booing. Chants of cheaters were heard in every stadium the team played in. The English supporters weren’t going to let go easily. Though it’s disheartening that the docu-series does not include the moment where Virat Kohli, Indian Cricket Team’s captain, calls for the crowd to stop targeting those chants towards Steven Smith.
The biggest challenge there was
Well, soon the WC is over. Australia are knocked out by England, a cake-walk like never before in a semi-final. England like we already know, went onto become world champions, in one of the most dramatic and controversial WC final too date.
And these events set-up for an even dramatic climax to the docu-series, because it’s time for the Ashes. And like we have all come to witness over the years, The Ashes never serves a dull moment. And that only helps the makes of The Test.
England who are World Champions are in the mood to teach this underconfident Australian team some harsh lessons in cricket. They after all have the new fast-bowling sensation in Jofra Archer. Steven Smith went onto to score centuries in both the innings of the first test.
The moment in the first innings, when the team collapsed and Steven Smith was fighting a lone battle is an inspiring moment to witness for young cricketers. Siddle who built a partnership with Smith departs, and out comes Nathan Lyon. He has been given some advice from none other than Steve Waugh on how to help Smith reach his hundred. But Smith is having none of it. Smith finished on 144 and Australia were bowled out for 284.
The second was drawn. And Australia were on course to win the third one too. But, Ben Stokes wasn’t going to let them have it. The episode that recounts this turnaround, the one in which a lot of Australian cricketers would like to forget is truly memorable.
Marcus Harris recounts how the ball ‘went straight out’ of his hands as he attempted to take a spectacular diving catch off Stokes. Pat Cummins reflects on the wasted review that he knew ‘pitched outside’ that cost Australia the match. And then Nathan Lyon reflects on how he thought he had ‘lost the Ashes’ after the missed run-out opportunity with England only requiring two runs for victory.
Langer to the disbelief of the team makes them watch the highlights of the last day of the test again. It’s painful for all the players to go through the trauma again, Tim Paine is seen telling Langer. Langer responds by telling him, it is even more important for them to realise it deeply, and never let it happen ever again.
Australia goes onto win the next one. And lose the last test again. But in drawing the series, they had managed to retain the urn, the prestigious Ashes Trophy was going back home. And though it wasn’t a clear cut victory, for an Australian team that was written off by everyone in the media, by the experts, including ex-Australian cricketers, this was redemption.
The young team in transition, and even head coach Langer needed it badly. And the moments captured in The Test post this triumph are telling of what it meant to this Australian team. The victory of winning back respect, and of changing a tarnished image, was the real victory of the Australian team, and it what Amazon Prime’s The Test is all about.