Second season of The Test can’t live up to the original
Sequels rarely live up to the original as the creators desperately try to recreate what made the first edition of their work so immensely successful. The Godfather Part II is the famous exception to the rule.
So how was Cricket Australia going to capitalise on the momentum of the compelling and gripping docuseries The Test?
It helped that the opening episode of Season 1 was propelled by one of the lowest points in our cricketing history: the ball-tampering scandal in Newlands in 2018.
The guilty trio of Steve Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft were rolled out in front of the cameras one by one like traitors who had conspired against their own country.
All three stammered and sobbed their way through well-prepared statements of regret and remorse. Smith’s was the toughest to watch.
The Australian cricket team’s brand had taken a hammering rarely seen in the sport. Cricket Australia had a serious image problem on their hands.
Beneath the wreckage lay a marketer’s dream: the redemption story. It was the Better Call Saul of sports documentaries.
The documentary makers just had to point the camera. The script would write itself.
The fly-on-the-wall style of the documentary gave viewers unprecedented access to the Australian dressing rooms in an attempt to bring cricket lovers back to the faith.
The ever-reliable, philosophical and stoic former Australian opener Justin Langer was the perfect messiah as the new coach. His seething sermons throughout the show were delivered with a mix of frustration and aggression.
The heart of the show was the Aussies unexpectedly retaining the Ashes in England for the first time since 2001.
There was the rampaging Ben Stokes in the third Test, whose unbelievable century steered the Poms to a remarkable one-wicket win. With only a handful of runs to win, Nathan Lyon trapped Stokes plum in front as he tried to clear the pickets to win the game, but the Aussies had run out of reviews.
The ball before, Lyon missed the easiest of run-out chances. Watching the Aussies panic as the Poms inched closer and closer to victory was like some bad horror movie.
Australia getting off the canvas after Stoke’s heroics to win the fourth Test and retain the Ashes in fading light on the fifth day only added to the pulsating drama of the show.
How could Season 2 of The Test hope to emulate the first? Surely Australian cricket couldn’t stoop to the same depravity as the cheating scandal?
Then just a couple of weeks before a home Ashes series against England – one of the most cherished and sacred summers in Australian cricket – captain Tim Paine got caught sending unsolicited explicit pictures to a female staffer at Cricket Tasmania.
The doco had its hook.
There is no time to dwell on Paine’s demise, as the doco quickly jumps to the urbane, statesmanlike Pat Cummins trying on his new captain’s blazer. Cummins wants his teammates to flourish and be themselves in an encouraging environment. Whatever you think of Marnus Labuschagne Chaplainesque antics, there is no denying he is authentically himself.
We learn that Labuschagne is a devout Christian and places an eagle sticker on the bottom of his willow before going out to bat. The bird represents a bible verse, Isaiah 40:31.
The show is determined to picture the Australian team as a place of tolerance and acceptance.
Although given Usman Khawaja’s claims to The Age after the series aired about the racist bias in the selection process, it would appear a level of intolerance still exists.
Given the Pakistan-born batsman was the first Muslim to ever play cricket for Australia, he is well placed to talk about discrimination in the game. Maybe he wasn’t asked the right questions.
Khawaja’s narrative thread throughout the show is one of the more enthralling and captivating as he heads back to his place of birth as part of the first Australian tour of Pakistan in 24 years.
There is no denying the team took a risk travelling to the Subcontinent, but whatever tension was created by the army of security surrounding the Aussies was extinguished when the team gets sent tens of thousands of dollars of ‘toys’ and a coffee machine to boost morale.
It comes across as tone deaf given the crippling poverty in Pakistan. On previous tours the players were probably just given diarrhoea pills and diaries to pass their time.
Overall Season 2 lacks the punch and drama of the first series. There are times when the doco is syrupy sweet and too well orchestrated.
The awkward mise en scene featuring Labuschagne making a toasted cheese sandwich had all the comical tones of a Curb Your Enthusiasm episode. You almost expected the show to finish with Langer waltzing up the fridge and shrugging his shoulders, before shoving the toastie into his gob.
And was this just a feeble attempt to acknowledge the culinary elephant in the room, when Langer grilled (I’m not sorry) Labuschagne for taking a toastie on the field during a game?
The show skims past the Ashes series faster than Scott Boland routed the Poms in the third Test.
The departure of Langer – who reportedly refused to be part of the second season – was glossed over far too quickly. The interviews with players clearly display a perverse pattern of acrimony between the coach and some of the Australian team.
But the lack of voices from Cricket Australia on Langer throughout the series was damning.
The doco is banal and drawn out at times and the boredom and indifference I felt far outweighed my affection for the first season.
Will there be a third season of The Test? Probably. But most times trilogies are harder to pull off than sequels – just look at The Godfather Part III.