“The next ball is the most important one of your life,” said Adam Gilchrist, former Australian ‘keeper-batsman and skipper, when asked to speak to a bunch of Australian batsmen who were falling like nine pins in Test matches last season. What ‘Gilly’ meant was that in order to score a hundred, batsmen need to survive 100-150 deliveries and play each of them with intense focus. ‘Living in the moment’ is the key to successful batting, according to the legend.
In order to not be affected by the coronovirus pandemic too, ‘living in the moment’ seems to be the key. That’s what the experts tell us: Stay at home and follow prescribed safety measures, now. The ‘survival’ process followed religiously, daily, on an hour-to-hour basis, can get each one of us out of this gargantuan crisis in a month’s time or so, hopefully.
The call of the hour is a clampdown on everything, including sport, all over the world. Live telecast of cricket, football and every other game that we were so used to watching from our living room couches, at the click of a button, is no longer available. In such a situation, with most of us working from home, the best we can do is to fall back on some classic old matches and even some old sports movies on streaming services and YouTube.
The Test: A New Era for Australia’s Team on Amazon Prime, an eight-episode series on the Australian cricket team’s journey post the Sandpapergate scandal in March 2018, is, without doubt, the best sports documentary I have ever seen. The docu-series follows the Tim Paine-led team through a Test series against Pakistan in the UAE, two home series against the highflying Indians and the beleaguered Sri Lankans and finally through the ICC World Cup and the Ashes.
As far as I know, never before has the camera been allowed into dressing rooms during international matches to record players’ frustrations, their disappointments and revelry, to eavesdrop on team meetings – some of them confrontational – and to record brain-storming sessions of the coaching staff. The dressing room is a sacred place for players and I have witnessed quite a few star cricketers, in the past, getting annoyed with intruders in that space. It is creditable that Cricket Australia, head coach Justin Langer and skipper Paine were comfortable with a camera following their every move and expression during the year-and-a-half that led to them retaining the Ashes, in England, in August-September 2019.
The ball tampering scandal in South Africa brought Australian cricket down to its knees. The three players involved, including the world-class Steve Smith and David Warner, were promptly banned. Thereon, Cricket Australia set out on an image-cleansing project: they brought in a no-nonsense coach and an affable skipper, and the team leadership’s brief was to ‘play hard but play fair’. ‘Elite Honesty’ was the keyword for the Aussies; banter was acceptable but ‘crossing the line’ – as Langer described it – was not.
The narrative, built over 45-minute long episodes, unravels the gradual process of confidence-building in a team that had lost belief in itself. For those aspiring to be cricketers or coaches, The Test is a docu-series that is worth its weight in gold; in filmy parlance, it is unmissable. The ‘next ball’ tip from Gilchrist, narrated above, is just one of the many gems that can be found in the docu-series.
Another immensely watchable cricket series is Bodyline, the story of the Ashes of 1932-33 played Down Under. Mumbai-born Douglas Jardine (played by Hugo Weaving), who led England in that series, invented the ‘leg-theory’ to trouble Don Bradman (played by Gary Sweet) and other Australian batsmen. England fast bowler Gubby Allen called it the ‘scone theory’ as bowlers aimed for the Aussie batsmen’s heads and Bert Oldfield even ended up with a cracked skull.
England won the series by four Tests to one. However, Jardine’s tactics not only angered Australian spectators, but diplomatic and cricketing relations between the two Commonwealth countries were also seriously damaged that decade. Bodyline tells the story of the most bitterly fought Ashes series ever, in seven episodes, and is available on YouTube.
The Tied Test – Wonderful Game is a 90-minute documentary on YouTube and is my personal favourite for many reasons. Said to be one of the most exciting cricket series ever played, Frank Worrell (West Indies) and Richie Benaud (Australia), the two skippers, encouraged their respective sides to play positive cricket right through the five-Test series in Australia in 1960. The first Test played at the Gabba was tied, incredibly, and though the tourists lost the series 1-2, they won the hearts of the spectators Down Under. I first saw this documentary when I was still in school and was not only impressed by Gary Sobers’ stroke play and Colin McDonald’s courageous batting, but also by the run up and actions of both Wes Hall and Alan Davidson. Calypso Summer, also on YouTube, is another documentary which celebrates this exciting series in three episodes – a total of two hours – and is worth watching, too.
I wish BCCI TV would take the trouble to produce a more professional documentary on the India-Australia tied Test match at the MA Chidambaram Stadium in Chennai in 1986. The video that is presently available on YouTube, despite the interviews of key players, is quite shabby, especially since it was such an exciting contest, with umpires, players and the crowd losing their cool in extremely stuffy conditions.
Two 40-minute videos that never fail to give me goosebumps are those of India’s Prudential World Cup win of 1983 under Kapil Dev’s leadership and the ‘85 B&H World Championship of Cricket triumph Down Under, under Sunil Gavaskar’s captaincy. Balvinder Singh Sandhu, who got that ball to curve in and clip Gordon Greenidge’s off bail in the ’83 final, and I weren’t just practice partners; we bowled in tandem for our club and company too. Before the Indian team flew to Australia in 1985, I had interviewed Dilip Vengsarkar at his home in Dadar, and after Ravi Shastri was declared ‘Champion of Champions’ in the World Championships, I had spoken to the young all-rounder’s parents in their Mahim home. These were two of my earliest published pieces.
The videos of both these triumphs aren’t of a very high quality. The footage available on YouTube of India’s 2011 World Cup win is, however, excellent. Almost a decade later, I fail to hold back tears when I see that six by MS Dhoni hoisted into the Wankhede Stadium stands and the youngsters in the team carrying Sachin Tendulkar on their shoulders, for the lap of honour, after the final.
On my watchlist for the coming week are the highlights of some exciting Test matches:
1. The Kolkata Test of 2001 in which VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid put on 376 runs for the fifth wicket, in the second innings against Australia. That was one of the most incredible wins achieved by India in Tests
2. The Ashes Test of 2005, at Birmingham, which was won by the home team by the narrowest of margins
3. The Ian Botham and Bob Willis Test of 1981, when the tall, lanky fast bowler, in a fiery spell, picked 8-43 and helped England carve out an improbable win after ‘Beefy’ had scored a swashbuckling hundred in the second innings
I will also be looking for footage of India’s 1971 victories in the West Indies and England, under Ajit Wadekar’s captaincy.
A wish-list: Books and movies, if any, based on the England-Australia Test match of 1882 played at the Oval, London. This match, won by the itinerant Australians by five runs, led to the birth of the Ashes.
During these coronavirus times, it’s important that we do not step out of the crease. For me, in the next few weeks, it shall be about playing out the tough overs – one ball at a time. What better way to do that than watching sports videos and movies? I have a huge backlog on books to read or re-read in my library too.
Dr Seuss, one of the greatest children’s authors once wrote: “But I’ve bought a big bat. I’m all ready you see. Now my troubles are going to have troubles with me.” Like Cheteshwar Pujara, I am going to bat myself out of trouble, so help me god!
The author is a caricaturist and sportswriter. A former fast bowler and coach, he believes in calling a spade a spade
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