Biweekly Binge: The Record - When 86,174 felt normal
A fortnightly column on what’s good in the vast ocean of content in the streaming platforms around you, and this week it's The Record
You lose a bowler - Tayla Vlaeminck - on the eve of a major tournament in your backyard. Captain Meg Lanning admits that a lot of the bowling plans against India - opening match - revolved around Tayla. One of your stars - Alyssa Healy - is going through a slump, making hardly any runs in the last 15 matches. Megan Schutt, a bowler of endless talent and menacing swing, has faced homophobic abuse when campaigning for same-sex marriage just a couple of years earlier, and in her own words, "grew up poor, in rough neighbourhoods," with a background vastly different from her peers. But, there's one of Australia's greatest athletes, Ellyse Perry, for everything she touches turns into gold and she can rake in the crowds like no other player. Nick Hockley, chief executive of the T20 World Cup, expects this from Perry and the team that revolves around her. The organisers are going all in to make a splash, a plan hatched four years prior.
You don't hear from Ellyse Perry. But all eyes and ears are on her. So it was during the tournament and so it is in the new documentary from Cricket Australia - The Record - on Australia's roller-coaster ride to the 2020 ICC Women's T20 World Cup win and the bigger task of filling the Melbourne Cricket Ground and breaking the attendance record for a women's sporting event. The documentary borrows the Australian team's post-match autograph ritual. We see shots of these moments after every match, as their tournament hits a wall just as it begins, steadies, and then jump-starts. There is a slo-mo shot of Perry sighing, taking the phone, and smiling for a selfie with a fan in an Indian jersey after losing to India. The team, too, plays it by the ear — a teammate walks up to Perry and pulls her sleeves down to hide the shoulder strap from the cameras in the airport. One of the funniest ruminations is from the quiet, unassuming Mooney, when she's tasked with the press conference after Perry is ruled out of the knockouts - "Did Perry send an inspiring message or give a speech to the team?" Beth: "I didn't say it, but she didn't die, why would she be doing that? She's still with us and traveling with the squad!"
The record is to beat the attendance of the 1999 FIFA Women's World Cup - made iconic by Brandi Chastain's penalty kick celebration. There's a meeting with the team to convey that this is something they are going to take as seriously as winning the tournament. The principal team members interviewed - Lanning, Healy and Mooney - are unanimous in their immediate, but muted response - "Absolutely no chance!" Mooney, along with Schutt, the most entertaining interviewees of the lot, says, "We've done some personality testing as a group and 95% of us are sceptics." It's not just disarming but speaks to the universal disregard for women's sports. Tennis, one of the few sports where the women's game is given almost equal stature, at least by the authorities, is played just a few hundred meters from the G and at the time, Australian Ashleigh Barty - also a cricket player - was the reigning French Open champion. And yet, apprehension looms large when faced with the mammoth weight of not just a home tournament but also filling up the seats in one of the biggest stadiums in the world.
The stakes were high, and the documentary brings out something that wasn't visible to spectators in an ultra-social event that had cricketers playing charades as part of ICC's marketing initiatives. Healy reveals that they blatantly lied whenever they said they felt no extra pressure from the organisers, effectively admitting that this task was non-consensual.
Produced by Nicole Minchins and Angela Pippos, The Record is also devoid of the entitlement and the overbearing air of The Test, the documentary on Australia's recovery post the ball-tampering scandal, which had a self-congratulatory whiff throughout. Though both are produced by Cricket Australia, The Record, a story of triumph, takes the conversation beyond Australia and puts women's cricket in front of a cynical sausage fest, an achievement worthy of chronicle. It gives everyone reason to dig deeper - about 16-year-old Shafali Verma and her audacious hops down the wicket for sixes or the story of Thailand and their captain Sornnarin Tippoch's ear-to-ear grin, the symbol of a team that is happy to be there and play cricket.
For obvious reasons, the focus is on Australia with their shaky win against Sri Lanka followed by a tournament long 'will they, won't they' that extended into the rain-affected semi-final in Sydney. Healy even sent a congratulatory message to South Africa's captain Dane van Niekerk for she knew the rain was not going to let up and South Africa would qualify as group toppers. It had already happened to England, India was through to the final, and Schutt comes up with the quote of the documentary - "I really felt for England, which isn't something I am used to feeling."
Women's sport, with Katy Perry and Billie Jean King attending, was normalised on that March day in 2020 with an 86,174 strong crowd, and little has felt normal since (there was one known Covid case at the stadium). The Record’s premiere on Prime coincides with another Melbourne lockdown as the Australian Open continues without spectators for the next five days. The pandemic has disproportionately affected the most vulnerable and in the cricketing world, the women face the wrath, with the ODI World Cup postponed and India yet to play an international game while the men played IPL, toured Australia, and are playing England at home.