A slew of new cricket docos will whet fans’ appetites ahead of the 2023 Ashes

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In Alfred Hitchcock’s hugely enjoyable 1938 comedy thriller, The Lady Vanishes (Amazon Prime), Charters (Basil Radford) and Caldicott (Naunton Wayne) are two very English chaps on a mission. To get back to Blighty ASAP. A heavy snowstorm has held up their train somewhere in Europe, where the clouds of World War II were gathering. What little news they’ve heard from home has been concerning. “That last report was pretty ghastly,” Charters worries. “England on the brink!” Caldicott tries to reassure his friend: “Yes, but that’s newspaper sensationalism. The Old Country’s been in some tight corners before…”

Eventually it emerges that the crisis confronting England and troubling Charters has nothing to do with the war. What he and Caldicott are talking about is the Third Test at Manchester’s Old Trafford between England and Australia.

Capturing Cricket: Steve Waugh in India goes to air next week on ABC.

They’re only secondary characters, but they’re members of a special breed: cricket lovers for whom a Test match is the pinnacle. And their high regard for the game is one still shared across the world, explaining why June 16 – when the 2023 Test Ashes series begins at Edgbaston, preceded by the Test Championship final between Australia and India at the Oval – matters.

Their passion is also endorsed in most of the cricket documentaries currently streaming Down Under. At the start of Death of a Gentleman (DocPlay), for example, the Reverend Andrew Wingfield Digby neatly summarises its moral imperative. “You can’t talk about cricket without talking about the values behind it,” he says, “The whole idea of fair play.”

Narrating The Edge (Apple TV+), actor Toby Jones points to the game’s global importance: “Test cricket was born on a field in England, is a way of life in Australia, a religion in Asia, and it’s in the soul of the Caribbean.” And Steven Riley’s memorable Fire in Babylon (Stan, DocPlay) beautifully conveys how it gave West Indies’ players and their supporters a way of challenging their colonial oppressors.

For narrator Sam Collins, who also co-directed Death of a Gentleman with Australians Jarrod Kimber and Johnny Blank, a Test match has a further significance. “It’s not just about cricket,” he proposes. “It’s about what you learn over those five long days… It’s a test of your courage and a test of your intelligence.”

Cricket Fever – Mumbai IndiansCredit: Netflix

And the players in these documentaries feel the same way. Asked in Death of a Gentleman what representing Australia was like, opener Ed Cowan refers to it as “beyond pleasure”. But, given his premature omission from the team, would he do it again? “Yeah, in a heartbeat.” In Capturing Cricket – Steve Waugh in India (Netflix), former champion Indian player Sachin Tendulkar has his eye on a bigger picture: “Cricket doesn’t recognise class or race or gender… There is no discrimination at all.”

However, in the same film, when Waugh visits the Blind Cricket Association of India in Bengalaru and attempts to bat blind, one of his opponents takes a more pragmatic approach. “The idea of the game is to hit the ball, sir,” he sledges drily to laughter all around.

What are probably best called the dressing-room documentaries take us behind-the-scenes to provide a more intimate view of the game. The two seasons of The Test (Amazon Prime) contribute a fascinating and hitherto hidden glimpse of the experiences of the Australian Test team following 2018’s ball-tampering scandal. The series is strong on the as-they-happened pressures encountered by the players and the coaching staff, but less rewarding as an analysis of the circumstances in which they found themselves.

On the other hand, examining the rise-and-fall trajectory of the English team between 2009 and 2012, The Edge offers a probing examination of what went right and why everything eventually went wrong. Impressively assembled, it’s an often-moving portrait of a team under stress and the sacrifices made by players for the cause.

The West Indies celebrate in Fire in Babylon.Credit:

Dealing with a different format of the game, the T20 matches under the auspices of the IPL (the Indian Premier League), Cricket Fever: Mumbai Indians (Netflix) also looks past on-field performances to the off-field pressures endured by the Mumbai Indians during the 2018 season. While it does allow some access to the way players and management go about their business in the IPL, its selective diary-like account is no more or less insightful than the furiously hyped coverage of any T20 match.

There are pleasures on offer in all of these documentaries. But the most revealing also draw attention to the behind-the-scenes wheeling and dealing which dictates the way Test cricket and the game as a whole have moved into the modern world.

The slickly made and deeply unsettling Caught Out – Crime, Corruption and Cricket (Netflix) offers an attention-grabbling exposé of the match-fixing scandals that have scarred the game’s reputation. They’re hovering around the edges in Shane (Amazon Prime), but here they’re centre stage.

Directed by Supriya Sobti Gupta, Caught Out could just as easily have been titled All the Bookies’ Men. A perfect illustration of the racy Netflix approach to documentary making, it’s structured like a thriller: fast-cutting; an urgent pounding score; new revelations exploding every 15 minutes.

It begins with just a hint of the scandal picked up by investigative journalists, followed by allegations from a former Indian player (Manoj Prabakahar) that eventually implicate idolised Indian captains Kapil Dev and Mohammad Azharuddin, the involvement of the Central Bureau of Investigation, confessions by former South African captain, Hanse Cronje, the exposure of the Mr. Bigs of the bookie world… and then a disturbing sting in the tail.

The tale that Death of a Gentleman has to tell is even more unsettling. Here, the villains are the movers and shakers who represent the governing bodies of the game, who’ve placed its control in the hands of an unholy alliance between India, England and Australia, and who’ve “trampled its values in the pursuit of money and power”.

The film’s directors, Sam Collins and Jarrod Kimber, play on-camera roles as they hunt down and interview present and former administrators of the ICC (the International Cricket Council), and the BCCI (the Board of Control for Cricket in India). The authorities at the ACB (the Australian Cricket Board) declined the filmmakers’ invitation to talk, but they’re equally implicated.

However, two men in powerful positions did agree to be interviewed and find themselves in the cross-hairs: the supercilious Giles Clarke, ex-chairman of the England and Wales Cricket Board, and the taciturn N. Srinivasan, ex-chairman of both the ICC and the BCCI. The filmmakers give both men plenty of rope, and they use it.

In part, Fire in Babylon also concerns itself with the problems of cricket administration, looking back to the glory days of West Indies cricket and to what might well have laid the foundations for its current crisis. Alongside some terrific cricket footage, it also takes note of the equally compelling off-field battles, including the players’ ongoing struggle with their mainly-white cricket board for appropriate remuneration and the divisions created by the rise of Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket.

One more thing, in case you were wondering, the score that Charters and Caldicott were furrowing their brows over in The Lady Vanishes related to an actual Test, which, as a newspaper banner tells us near the end, was washed out.

What and where: The Lady Vanishes; Shane & The Test (all on Amazon Prime), The Edge (Apple TV+), Fire in Babylon (Stan, DocPlay), Death of a Gentleman (DocPlay), Caught Out – Crime, Corruption & Cricket; Cricket Fever – Mumbai Indians & Capturing Cricket – Steve Waugh in India (Netflix), Live coverage of the Test Championship match at the Oval exclusively on Channel 7 and 7plus (from June 7), Live coverage of the 2023 Ashes series in England on Channel 9, Fox Cricket and Kayo (from June 16).

Find out the next TV, streaming series and movies to add to your must-sees. Get The Watchlist delivered every Thursday.

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