03 August 2020 00:30
What price success? Is winning always worth it? The Edge (BBC Two), an excellent film about the England cricket team, asked the question. The players answered with admirable frankness. Between 2009 and 2013, this squad rose from abject failure to number one team in the world and Ashes victory under the guidance of Andy Flower.
They were sporting heroes and they were doing a job they loved: travelling the world on tour with their best mates, as Graeme Swann cheerfully put it. The first half of Barney Douglas's film (which was previously released in cinemas and available on Amazon) recalled the team's rise. It was given a cinematic treatment, which worked well even if sometimes Douglas got a bit carried away – Jonathan Trott walking in slow motion through a sun-dappled field suggested the director had watched Russell Crowe in Gladiator too many times. The script, voiced by Toby Jones, had an Eddie Butler-esque dramatic flourish: "So began a sweat-soaked, tear-fuelled, life-changing climb…" With the Ashes, "What began in 1882 as a rebel howl against colonial masters became a raging fire poured into a three-inch urn." Contrast that with the players' straight-talking: "Right, lads, we're not all that good actually so let's stop pretending we are." Flower did not achieve the transformation with a few kind words of encouragement. Some of the funniest moments in the film involved the players' reaction to the uncompromising Zimbabwean and his training methods.
"I didn't really know him from a bar of soap, to be honest, but we were having this chat and he punched me!" recalled Tim Bresnan. At one point, Flower packed them off to a training camp run by ex-SAS men, which did not appeal to Monty Panesar. "I could see genuine hatred in his eyes," grinned Flower. They got to the top but the pressure told, and not just for Kevin Pietersen, whose troubles were the most well-documented at the time. Panesar's anxiety led him to gorge from hotel room service menus. Trott came close to blacking out when walking off the field, feeling nothing but a banging going on in his head. These candid admissions were welcome, because they open up a much-needed conversation about mental health in elite sport. When, in 2013, David Warner described Trott post-match as "weak", it felt like outdated machismo. The Edge ★★★★☆ A Suitable Boy BBC One ★★★☆☆ During the recent Test series against the West Indies, the England cricket team were kept in a "biosecure bubble" with their opponents, backroom staff, groundsmen and even journalists. It was, according to most reports, mentally challenging. The batsman Jonathan Trott, who struggled with mental illness RYAN PIERSE/GETTY IMAGES However, being trapped in a cricket ground for weeks surrounded by people wearing masks and with colour-coded "safe zones" and limited social opportunities is a walk in the park compared with the experiences of the England cricketers in The Edge. Barney Douglas's exhaustive sports documentary (which had a run in cinemas in 2019, shortly after England's World Cup triumph) covered the years from 2009 to 2014, a period when England rose from No 7 in the world