Posted by: tootingtrumpet | May 7, 2020

The Final Over of The Test: A New Era For Australia’s Team

“Steve. I want mean and moody. C’mon, it can’t be that hard. Just do what JL is doing.”

Ball One – A Square Cut?

David Lean remarked that films were made on the cutting room floor, and nowhere is that more true than in the “fly on the wall” genre. It happened and therefore it’s true, but the truth presented is the one created in the edit, in the selection of certain incidents and environments, in the exclusion of others. “Access All Areas” is for the filmmakers, not for us. The clue is in the show’s title.

Ball Two – Droning on

The photography is superb, drones in India, swooping Skycams for on-field shots, close up but non-intrusive work in dressing rooms. Perhaps the best work is done on one of the oldest disciplines in the art – light. From the blazing Australian sun, to the dusty haze of the UAE, to the Yorkshire gloom of Leeds, cricket’s visual variation has seldom been captured with such care, telling a tale in itself.

Ball Three – Coaching

There’s a lot of coaching in this series but the most influential coaching is done off-camera. The rigorous media training all players undergo these days is evident in the homogeneity of the talking heads interviews that break up and explain the contemporaneously shot footage. The personalities come through, but they’re monochrome compared to what we see when flying about or stuck to that metaphorical wall. Recent documentaries (Senna, Diego Maradona, Amy) have done away with such interventions entirely and are all the better for their absence.

Ball Four – The Coach

Justin Langer is the star of the show, whether apologetically replacing the contents of a litter bin kicked over as Nathan Lyon fumbled the run out that would have secured the Ashes a Test earlier or being photographed in a back alley after his appointment, not quite believing that it had actually happened. Though successful in his job, it’s hard to discern why from the evidence before us. There’s an almost constant refrain eulogising “The Group”, sometimes mediated through the peculiarly Australian concept of “mateship”, but almost no technical nor psychological input one would not expect from a clued up PE teacher. The leap in knowhow once Ricky Ponting appears and talks about batting is marked. Still, Langer delivered on his brief and we don’t know what’s on the cutting room floor.

Ball Five – Pleasures and Paine

Amongst the players, personalities emerge. Tim Paine is very good off the field and (I suspect) that avoids too much whispering about his work on it. Aaron Finch is self-effacing and clearly a decent man, horribly hung out to dry by his coach when he did the right thing by the team and refused an early DRS review when he thought he was probably out – he wasn’t, to Langer’s disgust. Nathan Lyon has zero affectations and an almost child-like wonder that he’s there at all. Patrick Cummins seems to be disguising a lurking sideways look at the camera as cautiously self-aware as Lyon is not. Marnus Labuschagne is endearingly eccentric, with the air of a kid who won a Make A Wish competition for all his abundant talent. And Steven Smith – strange, self-absorbed, damaged – but brilliant with bat in hand and, with an unshowy awkwardness in front of cameras that screams authenticity, much the most compelling character of the lot. There’s a fascinating film to be made just following him – no sound, no context, no exposition.

Ball Six – Highs and Lows

There’s much more awareness of mental health in cricket these days and that’s a good thing – indeed, Glenn Maxwell, one of the players featured, has been at the forefront of actively managing his MH. It’s shocking to see (and to see it repeated over and over again) the extremes of the reactions to victory and defeat (both of which are inevitable in the life of any sportsperson). That the highs are so high is to be expected, but the silence, the introspection, the despair of defeat stands in such contradiction that one wonders how such swings can be handled psychologically, sometimes within a few days of each other. We do see the steps taken (usually successfully) to rebuild morale and (see Ball One) we don’t know how representative the thousand yard stares into a silent changing room might be, but the humourless absence of perspective is troubling. Of course, the saying goes that “Show me a good loser and I’ll show you a loser”, and there’s much in that, but knowing that so many cricketers appear to find the mental side of life a challenge, it’s not a good look. Well, not to a casual non-expert like me anyway.      

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