Cricket Fever review: Netflix gains unprecedented inside access into the IPL
Cricket Fever review: Netflix’s latest documentary series, about the Mumbai Indians’ 2018 IPL season, is an exciting inside look at how the business of sports is run. Rating: 3.5/5.Updated: Apr 20, 2020 20:36 IST
Cricket Fever: Mumbai Indians
Rating - 3.5/5
Sports and cinema are the greatest levellers. For two hours, all class barriers are broken. People could be flying in on private jets or arriving on local trains; they could be watching from five-star pavilions or from the rafters, but sitting next to each other under the floodlights, or huddled together in a darkened room, they’re united.
Cricket Fever, an eight-part Netflix documentary series about the Mumbai Indians’ 2018 Indian Premier League campaign, is the coming together of two of our biggest national passions. And while it might not be as perceptive as one might have hoped, it’s certainly not the PR exercise that I was expecting.
Watch an exclusive Cricket Fever clip here
A cricket team, particularly in a country as diverse - economically and culturally - as India, is a fairly accurate capsule of our strengths and flaws, not only as a people, but as a species.
Personal interests collide with larger goals as the forces of commerce invade a playground that had once been dominated by skill - like that one kid who’d control the proceedings on gullies across our country, simply because he owned the bat and the ball.
To its credit, the IPL is a rather transparent in its hierarchy. Certain players are worth more than others, literally. But if there was one takeaway from the Mumbai Indians’ 2018 IPL season, it was that price tags might be misleading.
Cricket Fever plays to its strengths, and makes the best use of the unprecedented access it has been provided by, presumably, the team owners, Ambanis. They also get a lot of screen time over the course of the first four episodes.
Nita Ambani, whose husband Mukesh purchased the franchise back in 2008, is often seen in players’ locker rooms, delivering pep talks ahead of matches and conducting impromptu pujas. The team’s coach, Mahela Jayawardene, is routinely seen running major decisions by her son, Akash (the current manager) - the most notable being the decision to rest star player Hardik Pandya due to injury.
But some of the series’ greatest highlights have nothing to do with cricket at all, and can be found in the mundane - like hearing the otherwise very composed Jayawardene drop F-bombs in high-pressure situations, and watching the team play a game of treasure hunt in the labyrinthine boulevards of the famously restricted Antilia, the Ambani’s billion-dollar home.
Cricket Fever delivers on the promise of providing an insider’s view into how the IPL works - with heated board meetings and locker room discussions, practice sessions and match-day drama. But it’s greatest creative stroke is to pepper episodes with player profiles.
Not only does this provide a human element to this story of a machine that is greater than any of them, it also makes for a compelling narrative, and a convenient entry point for audiences that might not be as familiar with the sport as us. Over time, the players begin to display noticeable characteristics. There are the blazingly talented rookies like Ishan Kishan and Mayank Markande - shining stars of the future in awe of all the attention - and then there are the ‘seniors’, the colourful Pandya brothers, the focussed seamer Jasprit Bumrah and captain Rohit Sharma.
They’re surrounded by a support staff made up of players I used to watch growing up - Robin Singh and Shane Bond, and of course, the foul-mouthed Jayawardene. It was wonderful catching up with them.
Netflix has done similar documentaries on the Italian football team Juventus and the English club Sunderland. Each of those series also doubled as warm portrait of the cities in which those teams are based. But there’s a crucial difference in the depiction of Mumbai in Cricket Fever and the Turin of First Team: Juventus or the Sunderland of Sunderland ’Til I Die.
What they have going for them is decades of passionate devotion, which is impossible to expect from fans of an IPL team founded 11 years ago. The portrayal of Mumbai in Cricket Fever seems rather narrow, unlike Sacred Games, which positively oozed the humidity of the great city, and even Selection Day, whose partial Marathi dialogue added an element of authenticity.
Fortunately for Cricket Fever, its enthusiasm for the sport is distracting enough from the commerce that runs it - at least until you notice the Jio logo on the jerseys of not just the Mumbai Indians, but a couple of other teams as well.