A new ICC-sanctioned documentary that debuted on Netflix celebrates the success of the ICC Women’s World T20 2020 in Australia, but it doesn’t tell us much more than what we already know
One of the most endearing images of the Women’s World T20 2020 was that of Harleen Deol consoling the heartbroken Shafali Verma after India were thwarted by hosts Australia in the final. The outpouring of emotions from both sides showed just how much the occasion meant for them, but for India, the cut was deeper because it was their second meltdown in three years in a world tournament final.
The tournament’s climax was perfectly positioned for International Women’s Day (March 8) and never before had a woman’s cricket match fetched this many eyeballs, at the venue and on television. A record 86,147 turned up at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG), just as much as the figures for the 1992 men’s World Cup final at the same venue, popularly known as “The G” .
Aggressive marketing by the International Cricket Council (ICC) ensured that the women’s game got the attention it was long yearning for and with American superstar Katy Perry on board for a glitzy closing ceremony performance, ex-players turned commentators choked with emotion.
This was days before the coronavirus pandemic struck a double whammy on women’s cricket, leaving the players facing a bleak immediate future, but more damagingly, eventually causing the postponement of the 50-over Women’s World Cup 2021. The latter was met with greater despair considering the frantic shifting of furniture to ensure the men’s IPL in another country for September-October.
Beyond The Boundary, a retrospective documentary on the 2020 Women’s World T20 that just dropped on Netflix and sanctioned by the ICC, relives the feel-good factor from not long ago.
Sports documentaries are a rage mainly for its unseen footage and a socio-political angle adds greater context. The behind the scenes footage in Beyond The Boundary however, is overshadowed by glorified highlights reels from matches that take up more air time than necessary. While dressing room recordings are subject to consent from all players involved, more personal one-one-one interviews could have given the film greater depth. The film rides along at a pace to match cricket’s shortest format, and by the end, it feels more like a tournament recap.
There are gems to savour though. It begins with Alyssa Healy speaking proudly about how her identity has grown to the point people have stopped referring to her as Ian Healy’s niece, or Mitchell Starc’s wife. There’s the adorable Thailand team – the underdog story – and how their captain Sornarrin Tipoch gets weak in the knees as she approaches her idol (Australian captain) Meg Lanning for a selfie. In the presence of stars like England’s Danni Wyatt, they have to pinch themselves to believe this is real. “They disarm you when they say hello,” says commentator Alan Wilkins with his hands-folded. Even after a plucky performance against Pakistan was later spoilt by rain, the Thai players danced. Their journey was deserving of a documentary in itself.
Another saving grace of the film is the slick editing in the highlights reels that capture the new-age athleticism in fielding that has upped the standards in women’s cricket immensely. Commentator Ian Bishop sums up the impact of Australian cricket on the world, with tournaments like the Women’s Big Bash League (WBBL) helping in improving cricket skills.
A single-part documentary film of 60 minutes is limited in its scope, and hence a mini-series along the lines of recent cricket documentaries based on the Australian Test team and Mumbai Indians, would have done justice to the wealth of human-interest stories in the women’s game still waiting to be aired. Instead, what we are fed with is players giving sound bytes with their game-faces on, suggesting that the film doesn’t go much beyond the boundary as the title suggests. A galaxy of legends of the women’s game had assembled at the “G” for the final but their presence was merely glossed over. It was the hardships they faced as players that was the catalyst for change, that is on-going.
The ICC has committed to building on the success of this World T20 leading into the 50-over World Cup through its initiative “100% cricket”. Stretch those boundaries, and there would be plenty more untold stories, pandemic permitting.