Review: 'The Test' is a riveting search for redemption in the fallout of the Australian ball tampering scandal
Amazon's latest docu-series focuses on the Australian national cricket team’s attempts to reclaim their position atop of the sport
Anyone with even a passing interest in cricket will be aware of the turmoil that engulfed the Australian national side in March 2018, when Cameron Bancroft was caught tampering with the ball in the third Test match against South Africa to make it swing in flight and turn the game in their favour.
After the resulting investigation, Bancroft, captain Steve Smith and vice-captain David Warner were all given lengthy suspensions. Coach Darren Lehmann resigned, too, and the nation was so disgusted by their attempted deceit that it was agreed they had brought shame upon Australian cricket. Even then prime minister Malcolm Turnbull had his own response to the incident, calling it a “shocking disappointment” and insisting “cricketers are role models and cricket is synonymous with fair play”.
With Australian cricket mired in this drama, and such an obvious redemptive arc waiting to be explored, it was hardly a surprise when Amazon focused its latest docuseries on the team’s attempts to reclaim their position at the top of the sport, as well as trying to win back the adulation of the supporters they had let down so badly.
The Test: A New Era for Australia’s Team teases the culmination of this comeback with its opening scene, which shows new coach Justin Langer watching on nervously as Australia look to bowl England out so that they can remain in contention for the 2019 Ashes series. Before we see the end result, the episode abruptly cuts to 16 months earlier, so that every viewer, even those not interested in cricket, can get up to date with their shameful behaviour.
But while The Test is impressively made, with Amazon’s riches not only bringing unprecedented behind-the-scenes access but a look and style that makes it feel legitimately cinematic, especially considering the abundance of slow motion, it’s safe to say that only sports fans will make it through all eight episodes – e
specially because Langer and Tim Paine, who replaced Smith as captain, are hardly the most charismatic of individuals. Instead, they display a seriousness and steel that shows why they were the perfect pair to help rebuild the team, with Paine going as far as to say he has the most important job in the country after that of prime minister.
It is Langer, though, who is clearly the most keenly aware of both the importance of bringing Australia out of this period of disgrace and the connection between sports supporters and their national side. In fact, during his first press conference as coach, Langer boldly proclaims it is his responsibility to “encourage great cricketers” and fill the team with “great Australians and great citizens”.
Langer’s attempt to tow the line between competitiveness and responsibility is exactly what makes The Test so riveting. While his comments, and the manner in which he deals with the weight of this scandal, are a reminder of the responsibility that comes with being an elite athlete, the series also provides a candid and detailed look at the treatment of the modern sportsman.
This is particularly relevant when it comes to technology, which has undoubtedly improved techniques and approaches to the game, but can also have an adverse impact on players’ mental health.
In one of the series’ most eye-opening moments, Marcus Stoinis is brutally honest about the pressure he feels, especially in the wake of yet another loss in Australia’s five-match One-Day International Series against England.
Not only are they thousands of miles away from their families and repeatedly facing abuse from the crowds because of their defeats, they’re then forced to analyse tape after tape of their deficiencies and having to train for several hours, all of which feels futile because of the gulf in class between the teams. Plus, they must contend with an extra layer of scrutiny and pressure from the press and the public because of the scandal. It’s a stark reminder that, while these are indeed supreme athletes, they’re still only human.
Because of these huge setbacks, and the deeply humane approach to the series, you can’t help but feel invested, and the steady improvements to the side feel all the more uproarious as a result. As the series progresses, we even get to see a different side to the Australian cricket team, as the originally calm Langer becomes more enraged, while other members of his staff, particularly swing coach Sridharan Sriram, slowly help to change their defeatist mindset. Some of their advice and psychological tidbits transcend cricket to the extent that they could easily be used in everyday scenarios. Which, much like the rest of the series, highlights how sport is, and always will be, far more than merely a game.
The Test: A New Era for Australia’s Team is on Amazon Prime Video now
Published: March 12, 2020 07:48 AM