The Test-Season 2: Little drama, more characters in this sequel
Docuseries glosses over dramatic changes within the Australian team before the narrative gathers steam in Pakistan and Sri Lanka
Sequels rarely live up to the scale and anticipation of the original. From that perspective, it is difficult to match the drama of the first season of The Test, released in 2020. The vilification of Steve Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft in the aftermath of the Sandpapergate scandal, the cultural purge the Australian dressing room had to go through as a result, and the resurrection of Smith in a record-breaking Ashes where Jofra Archer almost takes his head off, is phenomenal television.
But the second season, streaming on Amazon Prime and starting with the 2021-22 Ashes and including the tour of Pakistan and a restive Sri Lanka, doesn’t even try to match the first. It neither throws light on the Test defeat at the Gabba to what had effectively become a second string India nor capture the ecstasy of Australia’s maiden T20 World Cup triumph in the UAE in late 2021. The Covid-19 restrictions then could have prevented filming those moments, but the producers could surely have goaded the players into discussing it. That didn’t happen.
The four-part docuseries begins with Tim Paine’s tearful resignation while Cricket Australia (CA) were dilly-dallying over a contract extension for head coach Justin Langer. Both were dealt with superficially. It again emphasises the systemic malice towards those no longer part of the set-up and an underlying desire to not dwell on anything negative unless there is a redemptive ending. Paine and Langer, clearly, don’t fit that script. Instead, Test skipper Pat Cummins emerges as the new protagonist. He is the one standing up for his teammates when former players, mostly Langer’s cricket contemporaries, criticise the fast bowler for getting rid of a batting legend like Langer, that too after a big victory.
Tour after tour, Cummins is shown growing as a leader. On the road, he is the face of Australian tact in the most challenging subcontinent conditions. Off the field, Cummins is the calm sounding board at meetings and during time off he plays Call of Duty, although Mitch Marsh feels he is “shit” at it. In bits and pieces, this season again focuses on the relationship between Smith and Marnus Labuschagne, how Smith may have become a better person as a result of it. Labuschagne is the unsuspicious mainstay of the new season of The Test as it delves on his character. He scores runs by the buckets, loves frozen toasties and is a devout Christian whose bat has an eagle sticker at the toe end – it represents The Bible, Isaiah 40:31, enunciating the power of faith.
In keeping with the theme of pushing the narrative that this Australian team has indeed embraced and accepted diversity. The series taps into the stories of Scott Boland—only the second indigenous Australian to play Test cricket, after Jason Gillespie—and Usman Khawaja, a Pakistani immigrant, this season. Boland’s surprise selection for the Boxing Day Ashes Test has no solid backstory, only a glimpse of the selectors’ meeting where his experience at the MCG is weighed, and an interview of him in front of the Ayers Rock that looked every bit promotional. Undeniably real and raw however were the emotions overflowing at the MCG when Boland, the home boy, took 6/7 in the second innings, helping Australia wrap up an innings win.
Khawaja’s character was given more air time. From interviewing his family over lunch at his Sydney home to getting him to recount his struggle with racism during an interaction with kids to becoming an impromptu tour guide in Pakistan, Khawaja almost carries the show towards the end. Fittingly, Khawaja also scores a hundred at Karachi, his hometown. This is where the season is really at its narrative best as Australia hop from one city to another amid the backdrop of security cavalcades, hazy sunsets, economic crisis and spontaneous rebellions on the roads of Galle.
That, and the thought-provoking peek into the players lives—like the friendship between Alex Carey and Travis Head, Glenn Maxwell willing to do anything for a Test recall, David Warner coping with staying away from family, the blossoming romance of Cameron Green – lift the second season of The Test, though it is a one-time watch.