Tuesday, 14 May 2013

The Cricket Documentaries that NEED to be made - Part 1

As anyone with access to cable TV and a passing interest in sports would know, in the past few years ESPN have ushered in a golden era of sports documentary making with their '30 for 30' series of high quality sports films.

As well as being hugely entertaining, the '30 for 30' series has established a variety of new sports doc paradigms which I will now list in no particular order:

  1. It is now no longer acceptable to just point a camera at famous sports people and call yourself a documentary film maker. Some of these documentaries feature stunning production techniques, meticulous research and art direction that wouldn't be out of place on a medium budget Hollywood film. ESPN are pretty loaded, I suppose. For making these documentaries, I forgive them for Steven A Smith and those NFL Draft Panels that are just six Stephen Colbert lookalikes droning on about the 247th pick from Tallahassee State Technical College as though he's a Governor of the Fed.
  2. ESPN managed to spawn a phenomenon I am calling "the Girlfriend Index". My girlfriend has no particularly keen interest in sports, yet she became so emotionally absorbed in 'Once Brothers', 'The best that never was' and 'The Two Escobars' that she still talks about them a year later. These are now the yardstick against which all other sports TV is measured for her. This is a good and bad thing; good because she is now more open to sit watching a sports program, which keeps us away from Bunnings Warehouse for two hours, though bad in that she is less likely to find watching 'Inside Cricket' an enjoyable experience by comparison, even on a purely ironic level like myself.
  3. Sports documentaries now no longer have to be about he biggest stars and the most iconic (read: overdone) moments in sports. They can be about failed franchises of the past, one-hit wonders and obscure sports people who only flirted with fame. This is a good thing. This is what makes many of them so engaging. It's an antidote to the constant stream of regurgitation and raking over familiar ground that are generally the hallmarks of sports media.
So bearing all this in mind and given that this is a cricket blog, I think it is high time we campaign for some cricketing 30 for 30's. When I say that, obviously ESPN doesn't necessarily have to make them. Someone else can if they want. There are just so many great cricket stories that haven't really been told properly. I'm talking 'Fire in Babylon' quality docos too, not half hour profiles on famous players of the past.

First, I will exclude some for the reasons I outline in point 3 above: 

  • World Series: we've been there so many times and if you suggest this one and then also tell me you haven't read Gideon Haigh's 'The Cricket War', I will be Glenn McGrath and you will be Ramnaresh Sarwan. EXCEPTION: if it was a documentary purely about the 'Country Cup' games, I would be on board. That would be such a niche documentary. Other than me, about fifteen people would watch it but it would give Ian Redpath some airtime, which I'm obviously all for.
  • Bodyline: I think I've actually seen more of the Bodyline footage of Bradman ducking Larwood 'bumpers' than I have of any of the rest of his career. It's an endlessly fascinating topic but just read the 8000 books on it or watch the documentaries that already exist. It's such a cartoonish 'good vs evil' narrative that somehow I've become immune to its appeal. Familiarity breeds contempt.
  • Steve Waugh's Ashes hundred in Sydney: I mean, Ray Martin probably owns the rights anyway and Waugh himself released AN ENTIRE BOOK about it. Enough.
  • The Don: I'm sorry if Roland Perry is reading this, but we don't need any more books or documentaries about Don Bradman. Actually that's not true; some better quality ones would be nice because most of them are rubbish. But when it comes to the Don, unless there is some secret vault of recordings on which every key player in his career has recorded their actual thoughts about him, we've heard it, read it and seen it before.
  • Match-fixing: to be clear, I'm not saying 'don't make a documentary on match fixing', I just think it would need to be very specific and stick to one single element, whether it be Cronje, Aamer/Butt/Asif spot-fixing, or the 'John the Bookie' saga. It's a topic with so many tentacles reaching in so many directions I just don't know where to start.
So without further ado, here are some of my suggestions; feel free to add your own in the comments section (this is far from a definitive list) and we'll see whether we can all get a production credit for our work. I will have to make this a two or three part post because I'll never get anything done with my day if I keep going at this rate.

The Australian Rebel Tours to South Africa

Cast: Malcolm Fraser, Bob Hawke, Kim Hughes, Terry Alderman, Rodney Hogg, Ali Bacher, Bruce Francis, Omar Henry, Allan Donald, Kepler Wessels, Mike Procter, Barry Richards, Graeme Pollock.


Even excluding the other Rebel tours by England, Sri Lanka and the West Indies, the main difficulty in putting this documentary together would be trimming it down to two hours of material.

Politics, race, international relations, thwarted careers, the ability of sport to both divide and unite; this story is a documentary makers dream. It's riveting from both a political and sporting context, on a personal level and in a societal sense. Game footage clearly exists in abundance, nearly all of the key players are still alive and enough time has passed for a great many of them to feel comfortable to talk about the tours. 

Despite the disapproval of their Prime Minister and the threat of being ostracized by the game for a significant period, most of the Australian players involved still feel as though they did the right thing by the game and the people of South Africa. The games saw Omar Henry become South Africa's first non-white player since 1912 and the behind-the-scenes happenings were myriad and fascinating.

There are divisive characters (Bacher, Hughes, Francis), highly quotable public figures in Hawke and Fraser (the latter declined to let a plane carrying a Sprinkboks rugby tour refuel on Australian soil in 1981) and a host of lesser lights for whom the tours were the beginning and end of their representative careers.

One small but important point: as a 1980's one-day uniform fetishist, I can't say I'd be displeased for this number to be seen by a wider audience:

It's a no-brainer, this documentary just needs to be made. Note to any would-be producer who wants to take this project on: you need to devote at least 5 minutes of the finished film to Rod McCurdy's mullet.

Kim Hughes and Ali Bacher give it the thumbs up!

The 1981 Ashes Tour

No, I'm not talking about another yak-fest about "Botham's Ashes" and the hundred at Headingley, though it obviously would rate a mention. I'm talking about a warts-and-all look at Australia's disastrous Ashes campaign under Kim Hughes.

As anyone who read Christian Ryan's superb Kim Hughes biography 'Golden Boy' knows, things were more than a little NQR in the Australian camp on that tour. If they were all willing to open up about it, I'm sure it would be jaw-dropping. Greg Chappell opted out of the tour, the replacement captain was being seriously undermined by the few senior players he had at his disposal, then Lillee and Marsh placed bets on their own team losing at Headingley, which itself is probably deserving of a one hour special.

Speaking of the 'Cricketer of the Year' winners in the 1982 issue of Wisden following that Ashes series, editor John Woodcock said that Marsh's "delight that he had been included was good to hear of." No doubt it was of even more delight to Marsh at the time that his skipper did not make the list. They're all apparently chums again now, but if ever there was a doco about a tour debacle, this could be it. Honorable mention to the Bob Simpson-led team that ventured to the West Indies in 1978, which was also a farce of epic proportions. 

P.S. If someone ever makes a "this tour was a debacle" doco about Australia's 2013 tour of India and it has the word "homework" in the title, I will refuse to watch it.

The Death of Bob Woolmer

Excuse the ghoulishness of this suggestion,  but a certain amount of people have just completely forgotten about this event (it was only six years ago, too).

Woolmer, then the Pakistan coach, was found dead in his Jamaican hotel room on the 18th of March, 2007, only hours after Pakistan were surprisingly knocked out of the World Cup by Ireland.

Despite claims by the first pathologist to examine Woolmer that he had died of manual asphyxiation, later tests by other pathologists indicated that this was incorrect, with toxicology reports also concluding he had not been poisoned. An eventual inquest resulted in an open verdict and refused to rule out the strangulation theory.

Amongst all of this, former South African cricketer Clive Rice said he believed Woolmer had been murdered by an organised crime syndicate with links to sports betting. Taking even the most circumspect view, it is at the very least a story about a coach under so much pressure from a cricket-obsessed country that he died of a heart attack. It's a story that touches on difficult subjects for Pakistan, the spectre of gambling, and the high toll that the professional sports world can take on those within its orbit.

The First IPL Auction

On the 20th of February, 2008, the world of cricket entered uncharted territory upon the commencement of the the inaugural Indian Premier League T20 player auction. 

Fast forward six years and somehow the IPL have contrived to turn this event into a fairly beige affair in which several round tables of polo-shirted team officials wave miniature bats in place of auction paddles and earnestly scan the listings for available talent. As a spectacle, it is unquestionably inferior to the hyped-up draft day productions of the major US sports. Maybe even charmingly so, if such an adjective can be applied to an IPL event.

Yet the very first one was absolute mayhem. I'd long thought that it took place behind closed doors which afforded it a dodgy, clandestine air, but there is actually some footage up online still. It was attended by politicians, corporate heavy-weights, Bollywood actors, that bloke with the dodgy wig and, of course, the franchise owners who ended up footing the considerable bill at the end of the day. 

No-one can say they knew exactly what to expect, but amid the ego-driven bidding frenzy, the Chennai Superkings made M.S. Dhoni $1.5 million richer in an instant and Andrew Symonds relieved the Deccan Chargers of $1.35 million.

In the chaos, genuine stars went unsold and aging veterans like Sanath Jayasuria threatened to pass the million mark. David Hussey commanded $625,000, his more accomplished brother Mike only $250,000. More than anything, it put a publicly available dollar figure on the heads of many of the game's stars and for some this was not happy reading. Egos were doubtlessly battered as modest Indian trundlers became overnight millionaires at the expense of established international stars who were left to feed on the remaining crumbs.

But the auction itself, the money that was spent, the characters involved, it really was something. But would anyone involved be prepared to admit to any hubris or folly? 


Footnote: I intend on adding to this list but feel free to have a crack in the comments section. 


  1. Why not a mini series on the true story behind Dean Jones' double ton (sorry 210) in Chennai, India?

    You could get
    - Eric Bana in to play Deano himself,
    - Alf from Home and Away as Allan "Lets get a real flamin' Australian" Border,
    - and a special guest star - Craig McLachlan as Dean Jones' vomit!

    Crying out for the Channel 9 treatment!

    1. Meant to put "the meltdown in Madras" as one of my ones that I hope never gets made. Do we really need to hear Deano talk about that again?

      I am all for any cricket mini-series though. Maybe Hugo Weaving could add to his appearance in 'Bodyline' the mini-series by playing Bruce Reid in 'All Tied Up'. Couldn't Dean Jones himself play Dean Jones' vomit?

    2. And another thing that always gets glossed over; Boonie and AB also made tons in that innings, not that you hear them talking about it very often.

    3. There's this special about the Tied Test, decent watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GeydwXOmfkc&list=PL1931F3BC261F0981

    4. Also enjoyed that one, Crownish. Was on the ABC here.

  2. The WI-Pak Test series of 1986/7 and 87/8 might make for a fun hour and a half. I don't know if there was any off-field drama, but I'm thinking of something more along the lines of Reggie Miller v The New York Knicks.

    It might be better in a couple of decades when everyone's forgotten about him, but the Jason Krejza story would be a fascinating documentary.

    1. The Beau Casson story even more so.

      A good 'Reggie Miller vs the Knicks' style one could be Steve Waugh in the Windies in '95.

  3. Here are some of the things that NEED to be made in to a documentary:

    1) The Ind-Aus Test of 2001 in Kolkata. For the characters involved, and what it meant to India (and rest of the cricketing world), the rejuvenation of the careers of Lax and RSD, Ganguly/Wright combo, stopping the Aussie juggernaut, India's comeback in the series after the Mumbai mauling...

    2) The Black Armband protest of Olonga and A Flower.

    3) Reverse Swing

    4) Muralitharan - ethnic Tamil, with rubber wrists and dodgy action but goes on to be the highest wicket taker EVER!

    1. Olonga/Flower would be great to get across to a wider audience, Subash. Zimbabwean cricket in general is potted with unbelievable stories (Mark Vermeulen, anyone?)

      Yes, a Waqar/Wasim one would be great (re: reverse swing).

      Murali one would be useful if it focused on the events and outcomes that surrounded his clearance to play. It's still a very touchy subject, might need some distance and time first.

  4. I suppose the 2001 India Australia and Bhajjigate go on the "please don't touch" list documentary wise.

    The documentaries I'd pay to watch though...

    1. the epic India Australia series in 1977-78 that nearly ended the Packer circus before it started.

    2. This little story http://churumuri.wordpress.com/2013/04/22/when-bedi-bowled-from-maharajas-college-end/

    3. The non white cricketers who missed out because of apartheid

    1. Bob Simpson coming out of retirement for that 77/78 series and then the disastrous Windies tour was crazy, when you think about it.

      That Bedi story is great, and the photos too!

      Yes, the whole apartheid era is brimming with stories, not all of which have been told.

  5. 1. Zimbabwean cricket. Actually two-parts, the Rise - the victory over Australia in '83, defeating Sri Lanka in 84-85, losing Hick, winning in outposts like Albury in '92, the murky granting of test status and success in the late 90s - and the Fall - the race issues, the finance problems, Flower and Olonga's black-armed protest, the floggings and suspension of test status.

    (Would kind of like to see a doco on Kenya's '03 semi-final run, but it is largely a farce and lacks the punch of winning knockout matches. In any case, the Out of the Ashes doco on Afghanistan is a worthy filler - little bit cricket-lite but your gf might like it).

    2. West Indies decline. Start in '92-93 (great great series, worth a doco on its own) and track the following decade.

    (Also feel like there should be a corrective 30s-60s West Indies doco, apart from Empire of Cricket that deals with the perspective on CLR James, colonialism and race in a less English way.)

    3. New Zealand's fight for respect: '70-'86. A lot of Hadlee.

    4. South Africa's re-entry up to the end of World Cup '92 and the vote to end apartheid. Invictus re-dux I guess, but interesting story, because cricket was the first sport they came back in and there was a non-zero possibility they'd be kicked out of the cup right before the semi-finals.

    (By the by, the West Indian cricketers who went on rebel tours have much more interesting (read sad) post-tour stories).

    5. The ICL, Modi and the creation of the IPL. Suspect you'll have to wait a while though, given the ongoing legals.

    6. All the protagonists are long gone, but a history of the 1900-12 takeover of cricket by the Boards from the professional touring teams culminating in the player strikes.

    7. The ICC and US Cricket. Actually not so much a doco as an exposé.

    1. I must check out that 'Out of the Ashes' doco, Russ. Have heard good things.

      Re: Empire of Cricket - I was also watching the Viv Richards one that is on YouTube - appearance by CLR in that, too.

      NZ cricket plus Bodyline are interesting to cricket people though maybe not compelling TV. Unless yo find Hadlee really likeable, might be a bit of a chore.

      Yes, Richard Austin's story is heartbreaking. One thing I have always wondered though, was Franklyn Stephenson really as good as is always made out?

      Yep, early board years and the strikes would be great, as would a really good Trumper doco. Everyone's brown bread now though, I guess. Not a lot of footage either, other than the one they found of him being run out and that awful tease where the person doing the throw-down to him gives him a shocker down the leg side.

      Early years of US cricket and how baseball won out could be interesting, too. Probably a bit dry unless you had some crazy American historians going at it.

    2. By corrective I meant to Fire in Babylon that really undersold the 60s sides. But a good doco on Frank Worrell is lacking.

      Perhaps confine the NZ doco to this test, their first win over Australia. Given Australia's first XI was probably only touring because they couldn't go to South Africa, it was a pivotal moment.

      You could make an interesting series actually, of first test victories in England - Ashes test of 1882 through to Sri Lanka in '98. The recurring theme of being given short shrift by authorities until they prove themselves.

      Can't tell you about Stephenson, way before my time.

      Am planning to do a podcast soon on the last first class match to be played in the US in 1913. Will touch on several of these ideas I hope.

    3. Yeah, they weren't exactly easy-beats. Also, cricket was just played in a totally different spirit in the 20 years after the war so it is an unfair comparison to contrast 75-90 WI teams with the Worrell era.

      Yeah you're right, a doco specifically relating to their breakthroughs might be good. Trudging through the dark years less so.

      Let me know when the podcast is done, always find that stuff interesting.

  6. I'd love to see Cricket documentaries on

    1) The 1983 World Cup and the build up to it (Beating the Windies in an ODI at home)

    2) The controversial series between England and Zimbabwe in 96 (David Lloyd's we flippin' murdered them etc)

    3) A documentary on the also-rans of Indian cricket. All the chaps who came, played a few ODIs or if lucky a couple of tests, struggled to make a mark and then ended up dropped for good.

    4) The early tours between India and Pakistan that ended up in draws. Dull, Duller and Dullest

    5) The volatile crowd at Eden Gardens and all the times they've disrupted games

    6) Coming back to India-Pakistan, a feature on India's 100% record against them in the World Cups.

    7) The Mike Denness affair of 2001 and the test that was never recorded

    8) Before the 1996 World Cup, the Aussies and West Indians refused to play in SL owing to security conclusions, so that and the Combined Indo-Pak XI that played a game against the Lankans to prove a point

    9) And finally for now, A fairytale that nearly came true. Kenya reaching the semi-finals of the 2003 World Cup (A possible angle of the South Africans facing bad luck at the World Cup could be explored too as an aside)

    Ok that's a lot :P

    1. Vikram, I reckon if someone made a good doco on India's 1983 WC win, it would be the most watched sports doco ever given its appeal to all Indians!

      Anything with containing David Lloyd is alright by me. He'd be a great talking head in any doco.

      The Indian crowds one would be of interest. Not many countries where fans voice their displeasure by setting the stadium on fire. It'd be very entertaining.

      Mike Denness I had on my list as well. An underrated scandal.

      Yep, Kenya's run in '03 was brilliant. Lots of food for thought there, cheers Vikram.

  7. Sectarianism under the Don would be interesting, if, for obvious reasons, not really feasible now. Anything on Vinod Kambli's career would also be interesting and, given his taste for publicity, decidedly feasible.

    Speaking of Zimbabwe, I'd watch anything on the topic of Dave Brain and bowling with the arm you don't throw with.

    1. It would indeed, PM. Like I said though, unless there is a vault of material hid in a bunker under Jolimont street, it's going to be left unsaid by the original protagonists.

      Kambli would make a good reality TV star actually. I'd watch an Osbourne's style show starring the big guy.

      Dave Brain is one of many great Zimbabwean cricket names. Loved hearing Tony Greig say "Dirk Viljoen" as well.

  8. I'd have liked someone to follow Chris Gayle on his year in exile, 2011. See how he worked on his T20 batting, trace other T20 journeymen and talk on the debate of T20 drawing away talent from International cricket.

    1. I'm not sure if a Chris Gayle doco would be the most interesting thing in the world or the least interesting thing in the world.

      I bet there'd be multiple scenes of him going to Nando's. If I have learnt anything from twitter it's that Chris Gayle loves Nando's.

  9. I'd also add a vote for the Zimbabwe story. Would also have the interesting pre/post independence and everything eventually going tits up under Mugabe storyline. Footage of Eddo Brandes on his chicken farm would be a welcome addition.

    Also what about following one of the associate countries at the World Cup? It could also include a history of past efforts. Ireland would probably be best for an ESPN audience, but I'd rather some sort of Namibia style team being menaced by everyone instead of a competitive associate.

    1. Footage of Eddo Brandes sledging would be even better. I actually have a nice Mugabe photo where he is shaking hands with a certain Channel 9 commentator from the Old Dart. Will be giving it a run on here at some stage soon.

      I'd second your associate country idea, especially if it involved Dwayne Leverock getting some screen time: http://www.theage.com.au/ffximage/2007/03/20/svLEVEROCK_wideweb__470x231,0.jpg

  10. Love your doco ideas.

    There was a play a few years back about the lead up to the Aussie rebel tours called "Rebel Tour" - played in Sydney and Melbourne. Profiled on Radio National.

    The impact of the tours on West Indians was more extreme though (the fate of the players was varied by almost all tragic) - and the English rebel tours ended in a riot.

    I know from talking to Channel 9 people (on the drama side) the success of Howzat was put down to Packer rather than cricket.

    My top XI of possible doco subjects (in addition to yours)
    1) Kim Hughes
    2) Bob Simpson (esp 77-78 and then coming back) - the man they keep hiring then trying to get rid of
    3) The late 90s strike
    4) Suicide in crickeet - an adaptation of David Frith book
    5) Bill Lawry the Bastard (forgotten now)
    6) John Watkins
    7) The Pointless Search for the Next Keith Miller (from Ron Archer through Shaun Graf and Phil Carlson to Shane Watson)
    8) Warne
    9) The Jane McGrath Story
    10) Politicians and Cricket (inc umpire and PM Edmund Barton, and spin bowler John Howard)
    11) Jack Iverson Story (based on Gideon Haigh's book)

    1. The Frith one is a great idea, Bob. Wonder if he's ever been approached.

  11. I've never heard of these '30 for 30' series before now - Googled, and I can see only US sports - and the 1995 Rugby WC? Such a super concept though - will indeed be great for cricket! Thanks for the hat tip.
    The couple of ideas I could think of are:
    1. Cricket Writers - Cardus and Fingleton et al, but also the forgotten ones.
    2. West Indies' fall from grace - 2000 onwards.
    3. The 1930's to 1960's Maharajas of princely states and their trysts with the Indian cricket team (start with Ranji, end with Pataudi... and the tag rag in the middle)
    4. Allan Border, Sourav Ganguly, and Nasser Hussain, the three legacy-builders.

    1. The West Indies are a sad case study, for sure.

  12. How about the politicised nature of the Bangladeshi cricket board?

    Or perhaps the story of how women's cricket in India has gone backwards since the 80s?

    Or a doco on what cricketers who had previously represented their country did during the wars, when matches were suspended? This one has possibly already been done.

    Sri Lanka winning the 96 World Cup would also be an interesting narrative, especially as a decade earlier they had been completely rubbish. Tactically they changed the way one day cricket was played too, with ludicrously aggressive openers.

    1. Spot on suggestions, awbraae.

      Women's cricket does seem to be on a downward slide in India, for sure.

      I also think a SL '96 one would be great.

    2. As for SL'96, they should just make a movie out of Shehan Karunatilaka's 'Chinaman'.

  13. The rebel tours would make really good tv, do them as a series. There has been a book on them, but with South Africa back in the fold, they are something from another era and the next generation needs know how they split the Cricket World. lets add in England v RoW and Australia v RoW as well. Some great cricket long forgotten.