Cricket Test doco follows Australia's climb back to the top

From a hard place: 'The Test: A New Era for Australia's Team' is airing on Amazon Prime Drama.

From a hard place: 'The Test: A New Era for Australia's Team' is airing on Amazon Prime Drama.

The ball tampering scandal that led to the sacking of Australian Test captain Steve Smith and the public shaming of David Warner and Cameron Bancroft represents one of the lowest points in our national sporting history.

The release of the Amazon Prime documentary series The Test: A New Era for Australia's Team focuses on a teamwilling itself into a state of recovery after its appalling fall from grace.

That the Australian prime minister of the time found it necessary to express his grave thoughts on the matter indicates how heavily the ball-tampering scandal affected the psyche of the Australian public.

"It seemed completely beyond belief that the Australian cricket team had been involved in cheating," Malcolm Turnbull said.

We had lost the respect of the country, people were disappointed in us, it was like your parents being upset with you. It wasn't a nice place to be.

Usman Khawaja

Just hours before, television cameras at the Newlands ground in Cape Town, South Africa, had zoomed in on Australian Test batsman Cameron Bancroft using sandpaper to alter the condition of the ball in order to assist the team's bowlers to achieve reverse swing. The images were projected on the big screen at the ground.

Sandpapergate, as it has become known, was felt as a humiliating disgrace that hit at the very heart of the Australian sporting ethos of playing hard but fair. Cheating was what other teams from other countries might do.

The domestic impact can be demonstrated by the fact the International Cricket Council (ICC) barely blinked at the incident, handing out the lightest of penalties to Bancroft and Steve Smith, while Cricket Australia absolutely threw the book at the players and also at vice-captain David Warner who was labelled as the architect and true villain of the affair. Smith and Warner received 12-month bans.

The Australian team was in disgrace. Coach Darren Lehmann resigned as a consequence, and a new era in Australian cricket began under the leadership of unlikely captain Tim Paine and newly appointed coach Justin Langer.

This is where The Test begins, as the Australian cricket team seeks to rebuild its reputation and develop a new culture aimed at producing both respect and success.

The journey into the new era is riveting, edge-of-the-seat drama and a detailed insight into the life of a wounded Australian cricket team. I warn you now. Keeping a dry eye through this documentary is hard work.

The series puts a sharp focus on the pressure of professional sport, the demands of a victory-hungry nation, the crisis of confidence players suffer when form deserts them, and a team struggling to find a winning formula without two of its best players.

This is not a view from the grandstand, the camera comes in close, sits you down next to the players and staff through selection meetings, training sessions, life on the road and the nail-biting tension of the dressing room.

Coach Justin Langer is a constant presence in the series and is revealed as an emotionally charged individual, a fighter who craves success with every twitch of his body.

His tenseness is nicely off-set by the calm and likable Paine, whose ability to confront the likes of Indian champion Virat Kohli and the British press wins him the respect of his team and country.

At the lowest point the Australian one-day team is flogged 5-0 by England.

There are times when the tension is palpable, almost unbearable. Just watch Ricky Ponting unloading on David Warner when the opening batsman admits he is hampered by his fear of getting out.

Or Justin Langer candidly telling the story of his wife breaking down in tears as a consequence of the extreme pressure he is under.

And then there is the inconsolable image of Nathan Lyon after he had fluffed the run-out chance that would have prevented England's remarkable Headingly win.

This is not for the faint-hearted, and the close proximity of the camera puts the viewer right in the thick of it.

As Australian batsman Usman Khawaja points out: "As professional sportsmen we are used to cameras, but sometimes we would just be in the dressing room doing what we do and you turn around and there's the camera and you think... crap!"

Khawaja makes it clear the journey has been a difficult one, but believes Australian cricket is in a better place now because of the struggle from adversity.

"This has been a good thing for Australian cricket in a lot of respects. For us to grow as a team from a really bad situation... so much went down during that time, such a tough time. Everyone went through it.

"We had to come out of it. We had lost the respect of the country, people were disappointed in us, it was like your parents being upset with you. It wasn't a nice place to be."

If sport is theatre, the return of Smith and Warner to the team is a deeply compelling return of the damned to the centre stage.

As anyone with even a passing interest in the Australians' 2019 Ashes campaign knows, Smith's return to the Test arena was a staggering act of redemption. In the face of unremittingly hostile crowds he stood like some mythical figure staring down his mortal rivals and became a hero for the ages.

You don't have to be a cricket fan to enjoy this level of human drama, but if you are, it is not to be missed.

  • The Test: A New Era for Australia's Team, Amazon Prime Video.