'Calm' to 'frantic': Doco lifts lid on Ashes flashpoint

Prime Video's The Test lifts lid on behind-the-scenes drama of Jonny Bairstow stumping that heralded a shift in the series

Watch Season 3 of 'the Test' now on Prime Video

Not only does the third season of The Test documentary offer telling insights into Australia's scheming of and reaction to one of the most contentious moments in Ashes history, it also reveals it to be the beginning of the team's unravelling. 

Prime Video's latest fly-on-the-wall account of the Australian men's team, available globally on May 24, charts their rise to becoming World Test Champions and then to the brink of a drought-breaking Ashes triumph abroad.

But it's there that the narrative takes a turn as the firestorm sparked by the Jonny Bairstow stumping at Lord's proves a catalyst for a downward spiral in which captain Pat Cummins' "calm, relentless, fun" mantra becomes increasingly difficult for his charges to stick to.

Not helped by the loss of Nathan Lyon to injury and exacerbated by England's commitment to 'Bazball', the gripping three-episode series shows how Cummins' men become frayed and flustered as the two-month-long tour unfolds.

The series begins in rural Merseyside where the recent honeymooner Travis Head jokes of the Guinness he plans to drink over multiple rounds of golf, despite also expressing his fear at having prepared for the World Test Championship final by not picking up a bat for two months.

The knockabout middle-order bat could hardly have embraced Cummins' "calm, relentless, fun" edict more thoroughly as Head celebrates his century against India with a pint of the Irish ale at stumps on day one.

"No protein shakes or any of that carry-on," says Head, whose Test-high 163 proved the major factor in the Aussies lifting the WTC mace for the first time.

Head was player of the WTC final for his 163 against India at The Oval // Getty

Australia's strategic preparation for their next foe, England, is more nuanced.

With Lyon noting that "what England are trying to do is get us to panic", Australia's players observe a PowerPoint presentation displaying wagon wheels of England's gung-ho batters as team analyst, Thomas Body, speaks via video link.

Assistant coach Daniel Vettori's insistence that coaching staff "do not care" about singles scored off their bowling underscores a prudent commitment to containment, particularly given the depth of England's perceived hubris.

Recounting an earlier conversation with their star batter, Joe Root, Lyon tells incredulous pair Cummins and Josh Hazlewood during a break during the Edgbaston Test that Root "looked at me and goes, 'We're in the entertainment business – no more draws,' then walked off."

That England captain Ben Stokes' decision to declare later that day (while Root was yet to be dismissed in a masterful first-innings century) opened the door for a famous Australia victory only heightened the sense Australia were using their hosts' egos against them. 

Whether Australia's next act was a continuation of clever strategy, or an act of unsportsmanlike treachery, depends on which side of the ensuing spirit-of-cricket furore one was on.

The fondness the Australians have for the Home of Cricket swiftly evaporates after Alex Carey's straightforward attempt to dismiss Bairstow by underarming the ball at his stumps following a Cameron Green bouncer is successful.

That is revealed to be a result of an idea by Cummins, who explains how he had signalled to Carey after the previous delivery that the wicketkeeper ought to attempt the dismissal having observed Bairstow wander out of his crease.

"For me it was just clear cut – that's out," says Cummins, whose unshifting stance on the matter looks to be crystallised by coach Andrew McDonald's measured rationalisation.

"It's going to polarise, but it goes upstairs and (umpires) are there to make a decision … You guys felt comfortable with it as an appeal," cameras capture McDonald saying to Cummins in the Lord's changerooms as the skipper begins to eat his lunch.

Hazlewood joked while warming up on a previous day about the genteelness of MCC members compared to the abusive patrons at Edgbaston, but the Aussies are shocked at the hostility of their reception on their walk through the famed Long Room after the stumping.

"That's how I'll always remember the Lord's Test match," Cummins recounts, "it was like we'd ripped the soul out of them," while adding, "absolutely people stepped over the line".

Usman Khawaja details how one member told him, "I can say whatever I effing want," as reserve opener Marcus Harris leaves teammates in stitches when he recalls how he reminded hecklers that "you write the rules, you f***ing idiots".

Yet, the incident heralds a shift away from Australian dominance in the series.

Even as the tourists shake off Bairstow's simmering rage in the lunchroom and Stuart Broad's on-field taunts to seize a 2-0 series lead, Stokes' final-day torching of the Lyon-less bowling attack proves foreboding.

Stokes onslaught in vain as Aussies double Ashes lead

According to Steve Smith, Carey is "not quite right mentally" when the series resumes at Headingley as the toll of "being abused for 25 days of cricket" (as put so succinctly by Mitchell Starc) appears to take a toll.

Marnus Labuschagne's dismissal to Moeen Ali when Australia are one wicket down in their second innings and nearly 100 runs ahead in the third Test is identified as a turning point, while Cummins and McDonald grapple with how they can arrest shortcomings with the ball.

"We're getting caught up in the pace they want to play at," McDonald says at a leaders' meeting before the fourth Test. "It's been frantic. They're flying in directions we haven't encountered before."

But their issues are only compounded at Old Trafford, where England's batting brutality reaches its zenith and the cracks in Australia's approach become obvious even as rain prevents England from levelling the series.

"Creatively, I think we could have just tried more things, tried different stuff at different times," Labuschagne says of the Manchester carnage that saw the hosts pile on almost 600 runs at an economy rate of 5.5, while Smith suggests "at times we allowed them to play better than they could have done".

Cummins' leadership was tested during the fourth Test at Old Trafford // Getty

It forces Cummins, the day before the series finale at The Oval, to urge teammates to back in their chosen strategy in the field regardless of whether they agree with it, while conceding he had not been at his best during the penultimate Test.

Even as team psychologist Brent Membery speaks about staying "calm and connected" in the face of chaos, Australia struggle to maintain their composure amid a crushing final setback.

After England yet again made the running through the fifth Test, Khawaja and David Warner's stirring fightback in a fourth-innings opening stand was nixed after a change from a lifeless 40-over old ball to a much harder replacement tipped the balance of the match back in the hosts' favour.

With Australia stumbling in their improbable pursuit of 384, the lingering bitterness they maintained was displayed when David Warner, observing a fluffed catch attempt by Stokes off Smith, suggests "karma" had come around for the England captain.

"Mother cricket doesn't lie," says Warner, not long before Cummins accepts the replica urn and is joined on the dais by teammates united in muted celebration.

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