Review: Amazon's 'The Test'

Growing in popularity year by year is the sport documentary series. Netflix boasts ones about Barcelona player Antoine Griezemann, Juventus and of course the infamous, Sunderland ‘Til I Die, which from a Sunderland fan’s perspective is the most depressing piece of television in history. Amazon Prime also have a series about Manchester City and are […]

Rebecca Johnson
24th March 2020
Image: The Courier
Growing in popularity year by year is the sport documentary series. Netflix boasts ones about Barcelona player Antoine Griezemann, Juventus and of course the infamous, Sunderland ‘Til I Die, which from a Sunderland fan’s perspective is the most depressing piece of television in history. Amazon Prime also have a series about Manchester City and are currently filming at Tottenham Hotspur. However, whilst the bulk of these series concerns football, Prime’s new series the Test stands tall alongside football as one of the better sports documentaries out now.

The Test follows the men’s Australian cricket team in the aftermath of the infamous ball tampering scandal right up until the 2019 Ashes in England. Like any other series, it documents the highs and lows of the team as they battle to reinvent themselves as a tough and respected side.

The first episode opens with footage from the infamous South Africa tour. Watching with the benefit of hindsight, you almost wince as Cameron Bancroft is summoned by the umpires and displays the small piece of yellow material that causes a national scandal back home in Australia. It jumps to a press conference where Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull condemning the tampering trio of captain Steve Smith, vice captain David Warner and young batsman Bancroft. Footage then shows the public apologies of Bancroft, Smith and Warner, with the latter two bursting into tears on camera in images that rocked the world of cricket. As the sequence finishes with the scene of Darren Lehmann publicly resigning from his role as coach of the Australian cricket team, the stage is set perfectly for a hero to step in. That hero is former Australian batsman Justin Langer, followed by his sidekick, Tim Paine who becomes captain of the side.

No matter what your opinions of Australian cricket and all that has happened, it’s incredibly difficult not to like Langer. He comes across extremely well in the series, as someone who was immensely proud to play for his country and wants that instilled within his team.

Both he and Paine emphasise from the beginning that it’s their job to reinvent Australian cricket, to win over the public and become a feared, yet respected cricketing team. This is the narrative that is constantly reinforced throughout the entire series.

Without any specific mention of just how poisonous the Australian side have been in the past; this new ethos is quickly seen early on in the documentary and is evident throughout. Langer in one scene tells his team that abuse from any player will not be tolerated, and that banter is only acceptable. Langer appears to be the coach everyone needs in any sport, a quiet, calm and authoritative figure, who will be brutally honest with you. When things are going badly- he’ll tell you. If things are going well- he’ll tell you. His firm but fair coaching style is admirable throughout.

Australia’s first real show of strength comes in the India series, something which seems almost glossed over given that India were practically unstoppable throughout and eventually won the series. However, it also shows how much work was being undertaken behind the scenes to build a strong Australian side.

The build-up to the entire series arguably comes in the final two episodes and portrays this as the time for Australia to really demonstrate this new ethos that has been reinforced throughout. The battle between England fast bowler, Jofra Archer, and Aussie batsman, Steve Smith is a key highlight of this. As a cricket fan, the backroom reaction of Smith’s concussion is fascinating, as head injuries in any sport are taken incredibly seriously nowadays and cricket has brought in brand new guidelines. It subsequently produces one of the most poignant moments in the series as the incident happens, Warner whispers, “it hit him where it hit Hughsey”, referring to the tragic incident of Australian batman Philip Hughes, who was caught in the head by a fast ball and died in a freak accident. This is something that clearly sits with the side in this moment and the remaining tests.

One of the biggest moments in the documentary comes in the final episode. The Headingly Test is focused on in immense depth. Australia are in a good position, they bowled England out for 67 runs and set a run chase of 359, a near impossible feat and a record run chase set for the hosts. Then came one of the most incredible sets of batting ever from England’s Ben Stokes. He smacked the ball around the park. Australia made a poor series of decisions, not bringing the field in when eleventh man Jack Leach was batting, using  their final DRS decision for a ball that clearly wasn’t hitting the stumps, then not having a review a couple of overs later for a ball that was clearly plumb and, of course, Nathan Lyon fumbling the ball and fluffling a simple run out. England broke the record and won the game.

Langer is far from impressed with his team, even kicking over a bin whilst watching the game from his technical area before meekly picking it back up. The coach makes the entire team come back in the next morning and watch the session ball-by-ball and make them pick out their mistakes. A brutal watch, but it clearly did something to the team as they went to Manchester and reclaimed the famous urn.

As well as the serious cricket moments, there are a lot of wholesome scenes in the series too. The camera catches a “blink and you’ll miss it” moment where Langer describes giddily how much he enjoyed the film A Star is Born. Away on tour in India, the crew capture the bromance between Marcus Stoinis and Adam Zampa as the latter describes his love for coffee and how he brings his own brewing kit on every tour he goes on.

Despite there being brief mentions of players and their mental game, it’s a shame that this isn’t something expanded upon. Mental health in sport is something that is rising in importance, and arguably there could have been more on this. Most of that Australian side were in England for the best part of three months, an incredibly long time away from home, family and friends. In any potential sequel, this would be an interesting segment to feature.

Surprisingly, the Test doesn’t show footage of home fan opinion. Instead, there’s an incredible amount of backroom footage and not a lot outside team meetings, the dressing room and games. The documentary’s key theme is about how Australia are trying to reinvent themselves as a team to make Australians proud of, yet, there is no footage of whether this is successful up to the point of filming. Although as Langer and Paine keep saying, the rebuilding is a "process", it would have been intriguing to see whether their process is effective on the Australian public and to really see if this aim is being achieved.

If there’s one thing to take away from the Test, it’s that whilst Australia are in the midst of changing their public image from a, quite frankly, unlikeable side to a feared but respected side, the reactions behind the closed doors don’t change. Behind closed doors, those players are all human and display human reaction. There are bats thrown, swear words yelled and quiet seething in the corner; one image focuses on Nathan Lyon sat in the shower block, head in hands after the Headingly Ashes test and the heroics of Stokes and Leach. However, there’s the good stuff too, like the team joking over a game of cards and of course the celebrations after retaining the Ashes at Old Trafford in Manchester. Whilst there are some big characters in that team, they’re all still human, they care about winning and they’re fiercely passionate about cricket. They’re well on their way to winning back the Australian public.

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