The Test, a documentary that delves into Australian cricket’s new era under the watchful eye of Justin Langer, has grabbed attention. ANDRE HUISAMEN shares his thoughts …
Amazon has become quite a trendsetter in the last few years for producing some really interesting documentaries for their Prime channel, which takes viewers behind the scenes of sports clubs or franchises, most notably their All or Nothing series of English football club Manchester City during the 2017-18 season.
For all cricket lovers, who are in desperate need of some decent viewing during this time of isolation and lockdown, the newly released The Test ‘doccie series’ is worth the watch.
The narrative is based on the new era Cricket Australia entered following the infamous ball-tampering scandal against the Proteas at Newlands two summers ago.
Changes were quick throughout the system – added to the big-name players copping suspensions – while head coach Darren Lehman and CEO James Sutherland resigned from their posts.
The picture was clear from the outset: make Australian cricket a dominant force again across all formats but do it by playing fair.
One key ingredient for this objective to succeed, was the announcement of the country’s new coach, former opening batsman Justin Langer.
The series takes a deep look at Langer’s ruthless yet humble characteristics and attributes, both as a former player and as a potential manager of a team that had hit rock bottom in 2018. Langer’s vision was also quite clear and obvious from the start – build a team that will earn the respect, not only of their own country, but of the cricketing world once again.
A team that was slated by all cricket sections of the world; slated by Australia’s own prime minister on live television and a team that would for the next two years cop abuse wherever they played.
David Warner and Steve Smith’s bans left a bitter taste with cricket fans and especially in Australia.
The country would require a new and fresh set of leaders to provoke the new vision of Langer and the governing body. Tim Paine would be the name that everyone in management agreed to take up that responsibility, although not nearly as recognised a player as Smith, who led the team prior to the Cape Town debacle.
I’ve personally always enjoyed watching documentaries of any kind, mainly due to the never-seen-before footage. When it comes to sport and I get to experience that aspect once again, my excitement shoots through the roof and it grips me to the screen with undivided attention.
Having seen the trailer of The Test about a month in advance, I immediately knew this was going to be a similar case, especially after seeing the extent to which Amazon covered Manchester City’s title- winning season.
For more than two years, Amazon would follow and document every series and tour Australia embarked on, which all complemented the narrative of seeing a team rebuild and change the perception people had of them.
Langer’s role in this is critical.
In fact, it is unprecedented. I’m not sure who the other candidates were to replace Lehman as head coach, but looking back on what the team achieved in this period, it’s hard to see if anyone else would’ve been able to correct the wrongs of the past with so much determination and grid.
He was adamant to take Australian cricket to the top again but installed a set of values for the team, mainly forcing them to stay away from sledging on the field.
During the doccie series, Langer is often riled for never smiling while working with his players or during matches, but when you listen to his own versions of events and his thought process, one realises how humble and passionate he actually is about Australian cricket.
The behind-the-scenes footage shows all the drama and emotions of winning and losing matches all before Australia departed for last year’s World Cup and Ashes series in the country of their fiercest rival, England.
I’m pretty sure the name The Test is dedicated to the five Ashes Test matches that Australia and England contested last year.
With Warner and Smith back in the set-up, everyone involved with the Australian ODI and Test teams expected the hostile reception they would receive on English soil.
The World Cup was a bit of different scenario, because English fans were hoping their team could win their first crown, on their home turf, which they did after beating Australia in the semi-final and New Zealand in the thrilling final at Lord’s.
But, the Ashes is really where the series reaches its climax. Australia had to play five-day cricket across five loud and vocal English venues for almost two months.
Given the boos and abuse that was heard whenever Australia played a match during the World Cup, it was evident that the Ashes was going to go up a level in the aspect.
I was fortunate enough to watch the final group-stage match of the World Cup last year when South Africa faced Australia on a Saturday at Old Trafford in Manchester. The Proteas only had pride to play for, while a win would’ve seen the Aussies finish the competition at the top of the standings with New Zealand waiting the semi-final.
The amount of swearing and abuse directed towards Warner and Smith from the majority English spectators at Old Trafford that day was astounding.
They really wanted Australia to lose at all costs and that intensified when The Ashes got under way in August last year at Edgbaston; probably England’s most hostile ground with an electric atmosphere from days one to five.
When Warner and Cameron Bancroft strolled out to the middle to start the series, the deafening noise around the ground set the tone for what was to come over the following six weeks.
But Australia, inspired by Langer’s persistence of getting the best out this specific group of players and Smith’s rejuvenated batting displays, retained the urn with the series drawn at 2-2.
Langer’s tough-nut approach didn’t often sit well with some of the players or even his captain, though.
Paine was upset when Langer made the whole team watch the final 15 overs of the third Test at Headingley the following day when Australia only required one wicket for victory but squandered a number of chances, only to let Ben Stokes hit England to a famous win.
The hurt inside the players’ souls were clear to see on their faces as they sat in a conference room in their Leeds hotel, watching every single ball of Stokes’ heroics.
The captain went up to Langer when it was all done to tell him that he didn’t think it was in good taste to put the team through that misery once again, but the coach calmly responded by saying the squad should make sure they are never in that specific position again.
Another rather fascinating scene from the series is during the second Ashes Test at Lord’s when paceman Jofra Archer and Smith stole the limelight with their contest on a gloomy Saturday afternoon in London.
Smith was struck on the left arm before the seamer bounced him which left the batsman laying on the ground for a worrying and somewhat disturbing couple of minutes.
He would eventually return to do what he does best, by keeping Australia in the game with his bat.
This Smith incident and how his teammates and coaches reacted to him being hit in the head, while they were sitting on the famous Lord’s balcony is what genuinely makes this docuseries so interesting.
The coach’s choice of words, while being brutally honest at the same time throughout the duration of the series will grip any sports lover so if you’re looking for something interesting to watch at home during the lockdown, create an Amazon Prime account or take the free seven-day trial and binge the whole series, it will be well worth every second.