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England under the hammer

Jonathan Trott's struggles on the Ashes tour of 2013-14 are a focal point of the The Edge AFP

Judged solely as a documentary about England's Test team between 2009 and 2013, The Edge is surprisingly light on detail. The journey undertaken by Andy Flower and his side is depicted like a fairground high striker, with a firm whack preceding an immediate rise to the top and a dramatic fall.

Of course things were never that easy. The off-field tension of the spot-fix series against Pakistan is conspicuous by its absence, as is the whitewash in the UAE; there is no hard-fought draw in South Africa, no clinging on in Auckland; and Flower's final frontier, the 2-1 win in India, gets less screen time than Kevin Pietersen's drunken dancing in the SCG changing rooms.

But to care about any of that is to miss what this documentary hopes to reveal. It is a film about pressure, and the immense mental toll that constant touring has on a group that lack the means to process the expectations placed upon them. It is a film about preparation, and the difference between rigour and overload. Flower's masterplan is held up as a triumph, but recollections of Jonathan Trott's net sessions ducking 95mph bouncers over and over again strike a cold note.

First and foremost it is a film about people: the confident but complicated, victorious but vulnerable players who populated England's dressing room over a five-year period. And it is a film that eschews the binary judgements we tend to rush into forming about cricketers.

You know what Matt Prior was all about, don't you? A good batsman, decent wicketkeeper, but not the sort who needs reminding to affix his own oxygen mask before helping others, goes popular opinion. But sorting people into categories rarely enhances our understanding of their character. "Life as a professional sportsman doesn't necessarily lend itself to you being a good person," admits Prior, "because it's about winning.

"I had a three-inch tear in my Achilles tendon that no one knew about. I played with that for about five months. A place I wouldn't want to go back [to being in] is sat at Lord's in the dressing room, by myself, in tears, knowing that I was going to have to make a decision to not play cricket for England. It… just… was awful. And lonely."

How about Steven Finn? A classic story of unfulfilled talent, who messed about too much with his action and lacked the necessary mental resilience to play international cricket - right?

"I just got in a really bad place," he recalls. "I'd always been resistant, really, to sports psychologists, or people to talk to about that stuff, because I felt as though I would learn more from dealing with those problems by myself.

"The doctor would ask me: 'How's the bowling going?' [I'd] just burst into tears. I was trying so hard to get it right, and not to let myself down, I suppose."

Definitive verdicts about personalities miss the blurring of lines between black and white.

Most haunting of all is the starring role of Trott, who is choked up and tearful when trying to pinpoint what it was he would miss about top-level cricket.

"Going out to bat I felt my movements were restricted," he remembers, describing his torment at the Gabba in 2013. "I was very rigid. I was tense. It was really frightening.

"Concentration is the absence of irrelevant thought. When I was really struggling internally, then things started getting in. You're just in tears on the field. I almost think I blacked out as I was walking off, just from the banging that was going on in my head."

There is something surreal, and perhaps overblown, about the shots of Trott marking his guard in a wheat field in Suffolk, and of him dropping through a water tank fully padded up, but the emotion in his voice is not lost in the image, and it is complemented by a stirring soundtrack, courtesy the Maccabees' Felix White.

Musically, the film's greatest triumph is the drumming that accompanies Kevin Pietersen's 149 at Headingley in 2012. Each shot is displayed as a release of his frustrations with his schedule, with his team-mates, and with Flower; an opportunity to breathe against the stifling demands placed on him.

Pietersen comes out well here, though we are left none the wiser about the truth behind the whole saga of his fall from grace; given the confines of a 90-minute film, perhaps we were never likely to. One senses that Sky's Story of a Genius documentary series this summer will be the time for revelations on that front.

The film starts off light-hearted, with the dry humour of James Anderson, Andrew Strauss and Tim Bresnan shining through. Despite the physical and psychological challenge of the boot camp in Bavaria before the 2010-11 Ashes, the cracks only truly become apparent after England beat India at home to go No. 1.

Strauss recalls: "Holding that mace, to say we're No. 1 in the world - it was a bit of an anti-climax."

"It was like - f***, now what?" says a typically deadpan Bresnan.

Things fall to pieces as Flower demands more and more, desperate to sustain the side's success, and therein lies the impossibility of Test cricket: with no single tournament to win, just a never-ending string of bilateral series, there is no euphoric moment, as with a World Cup victory.

The only way is down. And by the time Shane Watson is grinning, Peter Siddle is screaming, and Michael Clarke is preparing them for a "broken f****** arm", don't England know it.

The Edge
Noah Media Group, and Heavy Soul Films
Released July 22