Amid the glut of sports documentaries commissioned by streaming services in the past five years, very few fly-on-the-wall offerings across sports have been able to strike a strong enough chord or shake off that appearance of functioning as an advertisement, puff piece or deceptively edited reality TV. But the second season of Amazon Prime’s The Test surpasses all expectations to emerge as the funny, insightful and sobering cricket documentary sports fanatics have been waiting for since its first instalment premiered three years ago.
While we do have an authentic football documentary in the form of Netflix’s Sunderland ‘Til I Die (2018)—true to its football club subject and a beautiful tribute to the English city of Sunderland—cricket hasn’t really had that same luck in finding a superlative series, having largely oscillated between lazily fabricated drama in Netflix’s Mumbai Indians: Cricket Fever (2019) and blatant jingoism in SonyLiv’s Down Underdogs (2022) or Voot’s Bandon Mein Tha Dum (2022).
The closest to genuine brilliance and high-level production value in cricket documentaries was seen in the March 2020 release of Amazon Prime’s The Test, an eight-episode docuseries on the rebuilding of Australian cricket’s reputation under coach Justin Langer and captains Tim Paine and Aaron Finch after the sandpaper ball-tampering scandal in 2018.
This original release featured a level of behind-the-scenes perspective on Paine’s Test captaincy and Langer’s high-intensity coaching style that fans and casual viewers had never seen in a cricketing context before.
However, in its attempt to cover a protracted period that only featured Test series against four different countries and a One Day International (ODI) World Cup, the show frequently meandered, lacked cohesion and always came across as a blatant “apology tour” funded by Cricket Australia.
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A power-packed sequel
In 2023, The Test has returned with a second season that blows its predecessor out of the water in every aspect, showing the value and appropriateness of brevity.
As such, this season only features four episodes and primarily takes place from November 2021 to July 2022, covering the home Ashes and the Test tours of Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Using the sexting scandal that spelt the end of Tim Paine’s Test captaincy and international career as a scene-setter, the series uses present-day Test captain Pat Cummins as the initial star of this new era for Australian cricket.
The realities of the limited runtime mean that several key events—like the 2021 T20 World Cup, the fallout of the Test series loss to India, the board’s boycott of Afghanistan and the Aaron Finch-led white-ball series—have been ruthlessly airbrushed out of the story save for passing mentions and archival footage.
The manner in which the three Test series panned out during the aforementioned time period does mean that some episodes make for more interesting accounts than others, with the ebbs and flows of on-field Test stats less of a priority than the broader stories around handpicked individual players.
Keeping in mind that this series is, by design, the Australian team and its current players telling their own stories amid the outside noise from media and ex-players, these four episodes have managed to knock it out of the park.
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‘Little things’ dominate
Without needing to over-dramatise real-life events, the production team behind The Test 2 put together some beautiful subplots around the players, particularly Usman Khawaja, Michael Neser and Scott Boland. And yet, this focus on the Test team’s trial and tribulations provides a far more streamlined sequence of events than the first season.
Amid the heartwarming sobering scenes depicting indigenous representation, Pakistani fan appreciation and last summer’s protests at Galle, there’s also plenty of comic relief shown from cricketers Marnus Labuschagne, Steve Smith and Cummins himself.
From Labuschagne’s love of cold ham sandwiches, his banter with Smith and Khawaja or Cummins’ spontaneous remark about a WhatsApp group—the little things depicting players’ personal lives and sense of humour add just enough colour while retaining the authenticity that season one lacked.
There are also unintentional revelations of elitism toward other cricketing nations as the season comes into its own with the Pakistan and Sri Lanka episodes, but those moments also provide insights into the mindsets of Cummins and his side.
Overall, The Test 2 still can’t quite reach Sunderland ‘Til I Die levels of brutal honesty, farce or tragedy due to the involvement of its subjects in the production. But for cricket fans and casual viewers alike, this Amazon offering continues to hit peerlessly higher standards in behind-the-scenes access to a Test dressing room.
(Edited by Zoya Bhatti)