Twenty minutes into the first episode of The Test: A New Era for Australia’s Team, I knew this was going to be one of the best sports documentaries ever.
The country is reeling from the aftermath of the Sandpaper controversy that has seen its captain, vice-captain, and opening batsman — Steve Smith, David Warner, and Cameron Bancroft — banned by the country’s cricketing board for 12 months.
A tear-filled walk of shame by the three is followed by the stepping down of the coach. Down in the dumps, Australia seeks a new saviour to take it forward and in steps Justin Langer, a former opening batsman best known for his dogged persistence, his ability to always fight through the biggest of challenges, and for forming one of the greatest opening partnerships that will serve as the bedrock for the greatest Aussie team ever.
This is the quintessential underdog story. Yet, what makes this utterly unique, is that it is unthinkable to even imagine an Australian cricket team as underdogs. They are the alphas. The ones whose standards everyone aspired to. Be it their on-field banter or the ruthless aggression. Traits embodied by the current Indian captain, Virat Kohli.
No wonder that Langer and his team immediately take a decision to tackle him — ignore and don’t engage. Rules that are part of a new-look Aussie team for whom “banter is okay but abuse is not.” Because Langer is not interested in making just a new team. He wants to make them better humans first and, in the process, reclaim the brand and image that suffered due to Smith and Warner’s actions.
This is a story of redemption. One that is 18 months long in real-life and eight episodes (and eight hours) long on Amazon Prime.
The great philosopher Albert Camus wrote, “The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.” Take Steve Smith’s return to the side as they go up against arch-rivals England. Cries of “cheat, cheat” follow him and Warner everywhere they go. The team bus is followed by rabid fans who mock them by rubbing their two hands.
Smith is exactly the kind of protagonist that won’t be out of place in an Indian film. He lives and breathes cricket. He shadow bats at a bar ten minutes in, while frolicking with his mate Nathan Lyon, who pleads with him to not think about cricket.
Each verbal volley from the stands is met by the ball from the sweet timber of Steve Smith. Every single run he takes is an act of rebellion against the Barmy Army, who at the end of the day, begrudgingly, amidst their boos, clap for him when he makes centuries back to back. This is a story of inspiration.
For Marnus Labuschagne, who has been watching Smith for the past 10 years, and comes on as the first-ever concussion substitute in the game and becomes the find of the series. For Usman Khwaja, who is a man’s man and gives as good as he gets to his surly coach.
For Aaron Finch, the ODI captain who is completely out of form, but who cannot talk about his team’s collective strength, when he himself is not contributing. For Nathan Lyon, who goes into every game nervous, like it is his first and last game.
For Tim Paine, the man who breaks the code for his teammates and leads by example, knowing fully well that he is in the shadows of cricketing legends who were Aussie captains before. For Langer, who has always been the little chihuahua and has never been given his due in an all-star team. For the Australian cricket team, to think they can still be the team of yore but also one that can be liked by others as the climax shows. For cricket itself, because without a strong antagonist like Australia, cricket’s protagonists will forever suffer. And for me, for instilling a sense of love and passion for a game that I had left long behind.