Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig
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If we needed any further reminder of the tenuous nature of gains made by women's cricket, it arrives with the fact that a revealing and emotive documentary account of Australia's T20 World Cup victory last year is being released at precisely the time Meg Lanning's team should be playing in the ODI equivalent.
The Record, produced by Angela Pippos and Nicole Minchin in collaboration with Cricket Australia, captures the moment in time when the women's game was showcased like never before, culminating in an unforgettable finale against India in front of 86,174 spectators at the MCG. The figure was fractionally short of the world record for a women's sporting contest alluded to in the title, but close enough that it really did not matter. This was a landmark occasion for countless reasons set out boldly over the two episodes.
Most poignant among these is how the world was pitched into global pandemic mode within days of Australia's model display in the final - there was one Covid-19 case present on the night. That has left a sense that many of the words spoken about investment in the game for the long-term have become increasingly empty amid the scramble for survival beyond coronavirus. Instead of seeking to reclaim the ODI crown won by England in 2017, Lanning and company are currently taking part in the Australian domestic league and wondering whether they will ever again see sights to match those of March, 2020.
Their understandable scepticism about the initial plan to host the final at Australia's largest ground is laid out nicely in the early passages of the film, best articulated by the self-deprecating but disarmingly frank Beth Mooney. CA's strategic vision for the women's game, rammed home strongly to the local organising committee and its then chief executive Nick Hockley as far back as 2016, was always about the need to "think big" and aim for the MCG.
This documentary's conception was weaved into the conversations that followed, with Pippos eager to build upon other projects to chronicle the rise of women in sport - whether it be a series on the Australian Football League Women's (AFLW) competition entitled Heroes, or her widely lauded book on the topic, Breaking The Mould. It should be made clear from the start, however, that despite airing through the same Amazon platform, The Record is unlike The Test, which was based on the Australia men's journey on retaining the 2019 Ashes post the ball-tampering scandal in 2018. With the latest documentary, the filmmakers are seen having greater editorial control although fewer chances to peek behind the dressing or the meeting room door.
Pippos and Minchin might have had more as they followed the Australians around the country in February and March 2020, but for the drama of the campaign that unfolded far less smoothly than Lanning and the national team coach Matthew Mott would have preferred. A startling defeat to India - spearheaded by the spin and guile of Poonam Yadav - had got the hosts off to the worst possible start, and when they sank to 10 for 3 against an unfancied Sri Lanka side in Perth, elimination was a distinct possibility. The film crew, which the team had been introduced to a week before the tournament began, was unsurprisingly not quite so welcome at this stage; but the trade-off is for an outlandish narrative no novelist could have scripted.
As a result, only one team meeting is captured, a somewhat clipped discussion ahead of the final pool game against New Zealand at the Junction Oval. There were also dressing room restrictions imposed by an ICC event. But the honesty and clarity with which players such as Lanning, Mooney, Alyssa Healy, Rachael Haynes and the proudly unpolished Megan Schutt express themselves helps to bridge the gap. Dane van Niekerk, Heather Knight and Harmanpreet Kaur offer their own considered insights among opposition captains, and the former Australian skipper Belinda Clark also brings valuable context. Hockley is there too, speaking a little less guardedly than he has as CA's interim CEO, and only the presence of the MCC chief executive Stuart Fox feels anything like superfluous.
The notable absence of Ellyse Perry from the list of interviewees though might be grounds for conspiracy theories given her initially curious and ultimately painful tournament, but the truth is a little more mundane. When interviews were conducted in the days after the tournament, she had been undergoing major surgery on her torn hamstring, while scheduled on-camera time for later in the year was to be cruelled by Covid-19 lockdowns in Melbourne. Nevertheless, she still cuts an intriguing figure, especially when Lanning speaks to the contrast between Perry's fastidious note-taking and her own far more seat-of-the-pants captaincy style.
Thematically, the only major omission is the gulf between the fully professionalised Australian system and virtually all the rest; certainly, there is nothing really to stand comparison with the WBBL as a domestic T20 event. Part of Australia's wrestle in the early games was in the gap between their "on paper" strength and the actual, anxious performance.
Episode two of The Record focuses on Australia's three consecutive elimination games against New Zealand, South Africa and India once more in the final, with many of the documentary's best moments emerging through the glum sight of a rain-sodden Sydney on the day of the semi-final. Healy admits she was sure that Australia would be eliminated due to rain after having finished second in their pool, as the rules stated that the team with the most points after the pool stage would qualify for the final should the semi-final be washed out. In fact, she even sent texts to van Niekerk mid-afternoon with pre-emptive congratulations on their progression to the final.
As the afternoon wore on and England were eliminated when their first-up game against India was washed out, Pippos was moved to excuse herself from the hubbub of the press box under the pretext of the need for a cup of tea to curse the imminent cancellation of the project. That pressure on Australia to reach the final and so turn it into the spectacle the organisers dearly wanted makes for some sober reflections from Hockley and others about balancing such desires with the "glorious uncertainty" of sport. Healy is happy to say in the aftermath that the team "blatantly lied" during their repeated public denials of extra pressure, or of "embracing the moment" in which so much rested on their progress.
History shows that Sydney's skies did clear for just long enough, the SCG was dry enough and the Australians squeaked home by just enough - five runs - over South Africa. That set up the perfect final for the administrators; and on a pristine autumn day, curtain-raised by Katy Perry, Lanning's team put together a performance to match even the wildest of their dreams. These moments have been captured expertly, with shot choices that emphasise the takeover of previously male-dominated halls.
Cameras linger over countless images or statues of male cricketers, reminders that in terms of progress, that wondrous day in March 2020 should only really be the beginning. Overall, The Record plays out like a better than average official film. But it is so much more powerful for being a women's tale, pulled together resourcefully in the shadow of coronavirus.