On March 11, 2020, Amazon Prime released ‘The Test’, a documentary which captures the journey of Australia right after the Sandpaper gate all the way up to their Ashes triumph in England. The documentary portrayed a vast range of emotions and showcased the humanitarian side of the players.
But as is the case with every other documentary out there on the internet, it is manipulated. If you think that all the documentaries you’re watching out there on YouTube, Netflix and Amazon Prime are 100% real, then boy I’ve got some bad news for you. PR can be cunning at times: they show you only what you would like to see and deliberately and conveniently hide the actual truth. In this day and age, there is no better tool to whitewash your image and come out clean than making a ‘biopic’ or releasing a documentary as, let’s admit it, it lets you manipulate your own past and rewrite and hide things you really wanna do away with.
‘The Test’, too, had numerous hours of unreleased footage that was conveniently edited out, as keeping them would have resulted in the reputation of some Aussie players getting tarnished further. The best thing about digital data, however, is that it is always there; it can never get lost. Fate works in funny ways, and somehow, the uncut version HAD to reach my hands. What I’m about to reveal is unseen, unedited excerpts from the third episode ‘A Test of Character’ which, as we all know, follows the Indian team in their tour of Australia during the summer of 2018.
November 26th was the day. After having shared the spoils in the T20 series and with still two days left for India’s four-day warm-up game against a Cricket Australia XI, the players of two teams decided to mingle and hit the streets for dinner. The protocols from both the team managements were clear: get drunk, get sloshed, we don’t care, but ensure that you make it back to the hotel by 10 PM.
The irony was that for India, the announcement was made by Ravi Shastri who, by then, was already four vodka shots down. ‘The Edinburgh Castle’ was fixed as the location and as both teams reached there via their own team buses, soon after arriving, they could be seen hanging around with their IPL buds - former and present. Travis Head was having a beer with KL Rahul, Coulter-Nile with DK and so on. Kohli, though, interestingly, was seen adhering to his ‘straight edge’ lifestyle, reading a book whilst staying away from the other lads, and noticing this, Aussie skipper Tim Paine approached his counterpart.
“Hey Virat, how’s it going pal?,” questioned Paine, who was kind of struggling to keep his balance intact. What followed was 10 minutes of small talk, after which Kohli expressed his amusement over how the players of both countries were bonding over the IPL. After a mild pause, a teary-eyed Paine uttered words that moved the Indian skipper, “You know, Virat. It’s almost been 10 years since I last played in the IPL. I miss the tournament. I miss the atmosphere. I wish I could get one more chance to play there.”
Now, Kohli could have either consoled Paine or straight up told him how he never got picked because he sucked in T20 cricket. But, lord knows what went through his mind then, Kohli came up with an interesting proposition for the Aussie skipper: “You know what, Tim. You know how powerful I am. So how about this? You and your boys keep your mouth shut for the entirety of the Test series and for that, in return, I pick you for the Royal Challengers Bangalore. Sounds like a good deal?”.
Paine, who clearly had too much of some trademark Tassie beer, instantly hugged his counterpart in joy and disbelief and told him that the deal was on. “This would also help us build our image, you know. But hey, one rule: At no cost can Gaffer (Langer) come to know about this.” Kohli agreed and told Paine to sleep over the proposal, just in case, and think twice about it.
Waking up with a hangover the next morning, Paine was consumed by the thought of potentially becoming a millionaire, so not knowing what to do, he decided to call up Michael Clarke. “Hey Pup, look, I got this proposal from Virat yesterday. I’ve thought through this and I’m enticed by it, but I wanted to get some expert advice. Look, I know both of us played for Pune. Back then, I was somewhat good in T20s. But I do know that there’s no way you could have gotten into an IPL side for your cricketing ability, so could you please bother telling me what actually went on behind the scenes?”
Clarke was left bemused by Paine’s question but he answered diplomatically, almost compelling the latter to take the deal. “Look, Painey. I can’t give you details but yes, it had something to do with myself and Sourav (Ganguly). All I can tell you is, go for it. Don’t let this opportunity slip. All you have to do is keep your mouth shut. How difficult is that? And you know what, I will even go an extra mile and bash the team’s lack of aggression, post the series, to make it look genuine. Make sure you summon a couple of guys with you to orchestrate this, though,” he said and hung up the call.
The ‘summon a couple of lads’ comment irked Paine but after thinking about it for a couple of days, the Tassie man knew who he needed to have on his side - Josh Hazlewood and Mitchell Starc. So Paine goes up to them: “Look, lads. You’ve done a great job in pretending that you didn’t know about sandpaper on the ball and now, all I want you to do is one thing. Make sure the boys don’t sledge the Indians and help me get a goddamn IPL contract. Mitch, Josh, if that happens, I will guarantee the both of you a place in the side for the next 4 years. Screw Patto and Sidds.”
The three come to agreement and soon, they form a stable. Remember, not a single soul outside of the three know about this. And so they get together to do their first task - evaluating the risk factor of all players. i.e., who is more bound to utter something stupid from their mouths. Marcus Harris, Shaun Marsh and Usman Khawaja are instantly ruled out. Paine has his doubts about Finch, but Starc reassures the Aussie skipper, “Look. He is barely able to buy a run these days. Do not worry, he is more likely to cuss himself than the Indians,” and yep, that’s exactly what happened. We all saw it in the fifth episode of the series, didn’t we?
Moving on, though, there is only one guy the three are worried about in unison - Peter Handscomb. Hazlewood tees off as soon as seeing Pete’s name, “Oh that goddamn Victorian. If only his mouth would stay as still has his feet whilst he’s batting. Garbage cricketer.” So after an hour of evaluation, Paine comes up with the ultimate idea - pitch to Langer how the entire team is going to be ‘well-behaved’ during the series and have both Starc and Hazlewood to attest to this cause. And so they do it the very next day. Langer is delighted by the thought of seeing Australia being ‘nice’ on the field and believes that it will go a long way in them regaining the trust of the general public. Six hours later, all the players are summoned upon and told that no one is allowed to sledge the Indian players at any cause and if found guilty, will be unceremoniously axed from the side.
Cue Adelaide, Australia end up losing the Test but manage to keep mum for the entire game. This invokes suspicion amongst the general public and soon, the word goes out to Paine. To tackle this, though, the Aussie skipper comes up with an interesting idea - that of orchestrating a ‘fight’ with Kohli during the match and then taking on Rishabh Pant behind the stumps. The plan ends up working out like a charm as Paine ends up becoming a cult hero for his banter with Pant behind the wickets and then for his physical altercation with Kohli. The fans love it, the journalists love it, but they have little idea that this was a well-planned drama. Eventually, the series comes to an end and hours before India’s flight back home, Paine once again has a chat with Kohli, in which the Indian skipper reassures the Tassie that he was going to be snapped up by RCB.
For four months, Kohli and Paine go without any contact, so right before the World Cup, the Aussie starts becoming a bit insecure. “Virat. You sure the deal is still on, pal?” he asks, to which Kohli responds, “Look. I’m a man of my word. You don’t believe me? Fine. To prove that the deal is still on, I’m going to manipulate the Indian fans into applauding Steve Smith when we meet you guys in the World Cup. Will that suffice?” And astonishingly, a month later, Kohli does just that. Ecstatic with the Indian skipper’s gesture, Paine sends Kohli 10 cases of Tassie Beer and attaches with it a personalized note on how much he trusts him.
For the next five months, the duo are in constant touch with each other, even joking about how much RCB will be willing to dish out for Paine. It’s December 19, 2019 and the auction day is here. 7.00 PM local time is when the auction is scheduled to take place for Paine and by 6:45, he’s gathered all his family and friends to his place, even the Prime Minister of Australia Scott Morrison, and has promised everyone that he’ll throw a party once he’s picked up in the auction. He texts Virat Kohli right before the auction, but weirdly there’s no response from the Indian skipper’s side. “Oh, he must be busy,” Paine thinks to himself.
At 8:15 PM local time, the first ‘wicket-keepers’ set comes out. Paine is waiting and waiting and waiting, but no, his name is not called out. Three more wicket-keepers sets are called out at 9:18, 9:47 and 10:15 PM local time and yet, his name is nowhere to be seen. The guests leave in frustration, and anxious and insecure about his own future, Paine decides to call up Kohli. To his dismay, though, the Indian skipper’s phone is switched off. He spends the rest of the night only trying to call Kohli and yet, the only words he could hear are “The number you’re trying to call is switched off. Please try again later.”
After six hours of pain and emotional agony, Paine sleeps off on his couch after seeing his name not even make the accelerated players’ list. The time is now 8.00 AM, December 20, and the Tasmanian wakes up to a text from Kohli: “LOL Painey, you f****** idiot. You thought I was serious, pal?”.