Sat. Mar 25th, 2023

With two major characters from season one dramatically killed off Game of Thrones-style, the second season presents the protagonists as warm and conscionable
Sport is drama and The Test, the documentary that follows the Australian men’s cricket team, is fabulous entertainment. It offers a valuable service to fans of the game but also those on the outer circle still baffled by the game’s mysteries. The Test also offers a community service by deepening our empathy for players, recasting the team as a family and taking us inside moments we usually only witness from afar.
I took my son to the premiere of the series’ second season this week. For us this documentary continues the healing post-sandpaper scandal in 2018 and extends the tough conversations parents had with their children on human frailty, fair play, personal responsibility and the price of victory. These are tests of character all of us face in life. Why did Australia’s cricket team fail them?
This might sound melodramatic but many parents like me still shudder at the memory of explaining to our kids why ‘our team’ felt compelled to cheat and why its captain, deputy and coach had to quit in shame. We wanted answers and we needed the reckoning to be public. Only then might my boy restore a Steve Smith or David Warner poster to his bedroom wall.
Rest assured, the Australian team needed the first season of The Test every bit as much as fans did. These men who wear our colours, whether complicit in the deed or blind to its advent, let us down. A debt was owed. As part of a root and branch review, Cricket Australia gave a camera crew access to a raw and reproachful squad as it rebuilt its image under a new captain and coach.
For CA, The Test season one was creative damage control, for the players it was a filmed confessional. We saw the spats and tantrums, the tears and fears, agonies and ecstasies. The feel good narrative – winning the Ashes, Smith’s road to redemption, Langer’s patriotism – won back plenty of fans, even those who suspected CA as the puppeteers behind a public relations masterstroke.
The four-episode sequel to the eight-part original covers the start of the Pat Cummins era. Like Game of Thrones, the two major characters from The Test are dramatically killed off: captain Tim Paine by a sexting scandal on the eve of the Ashes and coach Justin Langer by a CA-backed rebellion that sought a calm, inclusive ethos and greater control for players.
A team elder, Usman Khawaja, reminds us where we were in 2018-20: “We weren’t playing the game in the right spirit and the rest of the world hated us. They thought we were dicks.”
Paine’s implosion, in a pastiche of lurid headlines, sparks a fresh spiral for the 2021 team but from the chaos we cut to the future, young Galahad blowing raspberries at his baby son.
The tenor of season two mirrors the tempo of Cummins’ team – calm, intimate, conscionable. He wants a relaxed, stress-free unit where the tension of top-flight cricket is easily diffused. The mantra is “own your space”. Cummins licenses players to prepare and play their way. “Players wanted to create their own environment,” he says. “It’s us taking responsibility.”
It’s also the slow sidelining of coach Langer, who is asked by players to back off and does. This extends to the doco – he frees players to do their talking on camera as they do on field. When Cummins takes control it’s a very millennial coup. A gritty patriarchy falls and a prettier one rises as a gentle warrior with a humanitarian agenda usurps a fiercely-loyal dog of war.
Season two is full of lingering cutaways of kids watching cricket, as fans but also witnesses. It’s as if the filmmakers are viewing the game and its combatants through innocent eyes, maybe a nod to the team’s young fathers (seven babies, six of them girls, born since 2020). Young viewers will delight too in the brotherly niggle of Smith and Marnus Labuschagne and also Travis Head and Alex Carey, best mates playing the game like cheeky kids in a park.
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Older players go on poignant journeys too. Khawaja’s recall to the Test XI coincides with a return to Pakistan, the land of his birth. From Uluru, Scott Boland tells how he became the second Indigenous man to wear a baggy green (and the first to get 6-7 on debut). Glenn Maxwell talks movingly of sparking batting fireworks in the dark grip of depression and exile.
“Own your space” also allows the players to parade private eccentricities for the camera. We see Labuschagne put hot toasties in the fridge and Nathan Lyon learning sign language. Smith lays five bats on the ground and zones out wondering which to pick. Mitch Marsh drily observes the silver lining of touring but not playing is mastering the video game Call of Duty.
These diverse characters walk the sporting field like gods. But away from the game, with friends and family, they seem in this documentary humble, warm and normal. That’s the beauty, and purpose, of The Test. The thrill of the ordinary doing the extraordinary. These gifted kids are not perfect adults. But if they truly want to represent us, they can’t be.
Season two of The Test is available to stream in Australia on Prime Video and worldwide from 13 January.


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