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Breaking boundaries in the women's game

The ICC's documentary on the 2020 women's T20 World Cup goes for glory, but leaves out some of the story

Annesha Ghosh
Annesha Ghosh
"In feature films the director is God; in documentary films God is the director."
The unpredictability of non-fiction filmmaking, distilled in these words by Alfred Hitchcock, sits close to the heart of the ICC's retrospective of the 2020 Women's T20 World Cup. The grandest cricket event of a tumultuous year saw a record crowd of 86,174 for the final at the MCG in Australia, helped perhaps by a performance by pop star Katy Perry. That the ICC identified the tournament as a worthy subject for the documentary, Beyond the Boundary, speaks of the potential to introduce women's cricket to new audiences in the comfort of their homes.
Directed by Anna Stone, an Australian producer who is part of the team that delivers the Women's Big Bash League, the film combines four distinct narratives from the 17 days of the ten-team tournament that wound up just before Covid-19 grounded sport globally. Three of those strands chart heavyweights England's campaign that culminated in a dispiriting rain-thwarted semi-final exit, the Indian side's historic maiden run to the final, and hosts Australia's dramatic gold-medal-winning late dash to the finish line.
"You've got to have some sort of luck, or fate or destiny to win a World Cup," Australia wicketkeeper-batter Alyssa Healy, the Player of the T20 World Cup final, tells ESPNcricinfo. Healy is one of the primary characters in the documentary, which is bookended on the recollection of a dream of hers: "It's me on stage [in the final at the MCG] with Katy Perry and a medal around my neck."
"Don't get me wrong," says Healy. "World Cups are incredibly hard to win, and it takes a lot of skill and effort to get over the line, but you do need some luck along the way. It didn't feel like it was falling into place [for us] for the majority of that World Cup; it felt like everything was against us for the first few weeks of the round games.
"But as soon as that semi-final was played and we won it, everything started falling into place. We peaked in the last two games of the tournament and ultimately we were standing there with the trophy at the end, which meant we did the right thing."
"This documentary serves as a reminder to those who witnessed that historic day at the MCG, and as an entry point to newer viewers who may not have witnessed that the women's game can stand on its own two feet"
Ian Bishop
Australia's shock loss to India in the opener, their thrilling must-win encounter against New Zealand, the tournament-ending injury to their premier allrounder Ellyse Perry ahead of the knockouts, and the final itself play out through highlights montages culled from ten matches. Three of those spotlight debutants Thailand, who became the first team, men's or women's, from their country to qualify for a cricket world tournament.
"I never imagined that we would ever get this kind of attention," Sornnarin Tippoch, the Thailand captain, tells ESPNcricinfo. "I thought that little ICC features and clips on YouTube were already something big for me and the team. We are extremely proud and honoured to be featured in this documentary, which is viewed worldwide. Being featured in a story involving the top cricket nations is very special because they are our role models and inspiration to compete."
That Thailand's winless campaign has the potential to become something bigger than just what the scoresheets say, is endorsed by the commentary of Ian Bishop, Lisa Sthalekar, Alan Wilkins and Michael Clarke.
"There was a line one of my colleagues made during the documentary, which says that Thailand's captain and Thailand's team brought a reverence to the way they greeted the other players in the tournament," recalls Bishop. "The joy on their leader's face every time she took the field warmed my heart, it warmed your heart, and warmed the hearts of everyone I am sure that was watching.
"They have some work to do there [in batting], but Thailand were a shining example of the possibilities for every team, every player in the world game as to how far they can go. They have a long way to go, but they showed at times they weren't out of their depth."
With the pandemic limiting the scope of live sports and forcing cancellation of multiple women's bilateral series and postponement of the 2021 ODI World Cup, Bishop believes the documentary's worldwide premiere last month was timely.
"There was some real interest that sort of snowballed at the culmination of the T20 World Cup back in March The quality of the cricket, I think, then went to a different level... It's a shame that global sport came to a halt not too long after that. This documentary serves as a reminder to those who witnessed that historic day at the MCG, and as an entry point to newer viewers who may not have witnessed that the women's game can stand on its own two feet for its sheer entertainment and ability."
To the end, the film is likely to score well among a section of audiences. For others, though, especially regular followers of cricket or documentary lovers coming off finely crafted recent cricket titles such as The Test or The Edge, Beyond the Boundary might struggle to resonate. Part of it is down to what a viewer typically expects of a movie, which becomes notable either by what it says or how it makes them feel. To such a demographic, the film might appear to be punching below its weight on both fronts.
In prioritising perfunctory discovery over exploring depth or detail, the film fritters away the opportunity to live up to its title. Within a 60-minute run time, almost 26 minutes is given to highlights. It feels like a cop-out - the filmmaking team's unrestricted on-site access could have led to a deeper look at developments beyond the field of play, leaving room to intermix it with the history of the women's game.
Outside of a few fleeting references in the highlights, past editions of the Women's T20 World Cup itself find mention only briefly when the narrative shifts, around the 18-minute mark, to England's tournament opener in Perth. "This is my fifth World T20," says Danielle Wyatt, as her England team-mate Fran Wilson remembers, "It's been a while since we won the Twenty20 World Cup: 2009. And I remember watching that as a 16-, 17-year-old…"
In structuring itself around a 23-day countdown to the final, the film limits the scope of the event and treats it in isolation. Instead, the momentousness of that final - for the record Australian turnout alone - warrants a look back at how far women's cricket and its audiences have come.
As far as the ICC's arrival on the streaming video-on-demand orbit goes, the 2020 Women's T20 World Cup may just have been a trial run. If the governing body's exquisite, viral tournament recap montages in particular are anything to go by, more long-form non-fiction content from the ICC's stable, including on men's cricket, may not be far away.
With three major multi-team women's events, including two World Cups and the Commonwealth Games, lined up, could the year 2022 serve up a follow-up to Beyond the Boundary? Thailand's journey following the T20 World Cup could make for a compelling subject on its own, as could the rise and rise of Healy, who, hopefully by then, will have hit the last remnants of "married to Mitchell Starc" and "niece of Ian Healy" references out of the boundary.

Annesha Ghosh is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo