The Test Season 3 Series Review: A gripping account of Australia's quest for the Ashes

The Test Season 3 Series Review: A gripping account of Australia's quest for the Ashes

The series delves into the elite mentality of Australian cricketers and takes us up close and personal with the players, who are often on an emotional rollercoaster
The Test Season 3(4 / 5)

The Test Season 3 thrusts us right amidst the Australian cricketers as they tour England for the Ashes. But the series on Amazon Prime Video does not start with the marquee Test series between Australia and England. It begins with the 2023 World Test Championship Final between Australia and India at the Oval. Australia won the largely one-sided game to become World Test Champions, but the series shows it as a mere footnote in the team’s epic journey. The media understandably focuses on the Ashes, even as the players give it all for the final. It is a match Australia would go on to dominate, but the series disappointingly uses it mainly to show the Aussies’ adulation for India’s batting superstar Virat Kohli. It is disappointing for two reasons. Firstly, it is a match Kohli would rather erase from memory, just like the rest of the public in India, following an ordinary performance. Secondly, it does not acknowledge the best performer in the match for India. There is not even a mention of Ajinkya Rahane, India's lone warrior in the match, with scores of 89 and 46 in the first and second innings, respectively. Instead, there is at least 15 minutes dedicated to the Australian players waxing lyrical about Kohli. The cult of Kohli proves irresistible even for Prime Video, although none of this is his or the Aussies’ fault.

Directors: Adrian Brown, Sheldon Wynne

Cast: Pat Cummins, Nathan Lyon, Usman Khawaja, Alex Carey, Travis Head, Mitchell Marsh, Steve Smith, Marnus Labuachagne

The sequence pandering to Kohli is just a mere blip in a series that delves into the elite mentality of Australian cricketers and takes us up close and personal with the players, who are often on an emotional rollercoaster. The Test Season 3 shows, with all its intricacies, how some of the top players in the world approach the game and evaluate themselves. “We are a really good cricket team,” says Marnus Labuschagne, Australia’s top-order batter. It is a more reserved description compared to Australia's past reputation for producing the greatest cricketers ever, such as Shane Warne, Ricky Ponting, Steve Waugh, and Glenn McGrath, to name a few. With the exception of vice captain Steve Smith and captain Pat Cummins, the current Australian team do not have players who can walk straight into an all-time Aussie Test eleven. It is not the same constellation of stars as in the past. In fact, the players themselves seem to be aware of this fact, even as they believe in themselves and recognise their strengths.

“We are yet to win a Test series in India or England,” says Smith in a team talk ahead of the first Ashes Test. It is interesting because England last won the Ashes in 2015. There have been four Ashes series since then, and Australia won two of them, while the others resulted in shared honours. Mind you, a drawn Ashes means that the team that won the preceding series retains the Urn. However, Smith’s pragmatic assessment embodies the Australian team and their ruthless mentality.

The word ‘Test’ in the title does not merely refer to the format in cricket. It also refers to how the game renders itself as a true test of skill, fitness, stamina, and temperament. And there is no more stern test of all these aspects in cricket than the Ashes. It is a series often characterised by high skill, intensity, entertainment, and theatre. The series shows it in all its glory.

The makers slow the on-field action down only when necessary. The Test Season 3 recognises that a cricket match is most enjoyable at real speed. The documentary format adds to the drama and excitement as the players discuss their feelings at a particular moment in the match involving them. Some of it is also hilarious. For example, Mitchell Starc first admits his acceptance of the decision to rule Ben Duckett not out after video evidence shows Starc failing to keep the ball in control soon after holding on to it. “By the letter of the law, that is out, and I have no qualms about it,” says Starc. However, when Australia eventually dismiss Duckett with a bouncer, we see Starc letting out an expletive from the dressing room and suggesting that the batter deserves to go. The series also explores the contentious Jonny Bairstow dismissal in the Lord’s Test and England's sanctimonious spirit of cricket discussion around it. The series captures the Australian sentiment about the dismissal and the consequent furore through live and archive footage. The said sentiment is evident even in the smirky face that Australian journalist Gideon Haigh makes as he discusses the episode.

Further, the interactions between some of the players and their family members soon after a failure or an achievement during the series show how much the former values the latter. Sometimes, the series makes you wonder whether it is too much of an intrusion on privacy, especially when it goes into the players’ dressing rooms and other private spaces. In an early episode, Cummins says that the moments he spends with his wife and kids mean more to him than the memories he makes on the cricket field. In that moment, you consider the level of scrutiny and attention the players get. Ironically, the same Cummins is talking to the camera as he spends a day idling about with his family. But at the same time, it is worth noting that the private moments also make the series relatable as a drama.

It also shows the two contrasting aspects of sports and sportspeople. The world knows the players through what they do in the amphitheatre that is a stadium in the Ashes. Take England captain Ben Stokes, for instance. Stokes' celebration after achieving a milestone, such as a hundred or the match-clinching strike, is like Russell Crowe with his arms spread wide in Gladiator. You can almost imagine Stokes in an armour and shield, holding his bat like Crowe does with the sword, and facing the crowd as if to say, "Are you not entertained?" On the other hand, the mundane lives of these cricketers stand in stark contrast to the theatre they live virtually every other day.

The series weaves in heartwarming moments of team and family celebrations, as well as capturing the emotional highs and lows of players during the Ashes, such as Usman Khawaja’s family huddle after the win at Edgbaston, Mitchell Marsh’s triumphant moment at Headingley, and Nathan Lyon's visible dejection after his injury at Lord’s. Thus, the show achieves just enough drama to ground it in realism.

Cinema Express