Our access to the lives of cricketers or what goes on behind the scenes of a cricket team is usually restricted to social media, interviews given by those in the dressing room and what we see of them on the field.
Hardly is anyone able to get the kind of ‘behind the scenes’ insight as shown in Netflix’s latest documentary ‘Cricket Fever’, which follows the Mumbai Indians’ rollercoaster ride in the 2018 edition of the Indian Premier League.
Neither do the makers try to paint a rosy picture about the franchise, nor do they try to filter out the shortcomings of those who feature in it. And so, while I had followed the IPL from start to finish last year, seeing the first three episodes of the eight-part documentary felt like I was actually experiencing the league.
Mahela, The MI Boss
Mumbai Indians entered the 11th IPL edition as defending champions, having lifted the trophy for the third time in 2017. But like all other teams, they too had a crucial task of re-building their entire squad 12 weeks before the league kicked off (this is where the documentary begins).
The one man who is seen spearheading most discussions and decisions in the documentary is neither mentor Sachin Tendulkar, nor captain Rohit Sharma – it is Head Coach Mahela Jayawardene. It’s refreshing to see the former Sri Lankan captain as a mentor, unabashedly criticising the players when things are down and then working to motivate the cricketers who were feeling low.
While we get an insight into the dilemmas of the team – for instance picking between wicketkeeper-batsmen Aditya Tare and Ishan Kishan or fielding an injured Hardik Pandya – the documentary also weaves through the personal journeys of some of the players. ‘Cricket Fever’ takes its viewers into the childhood homes of the Pandya brothers, Ishan Kishan and even the residence of the Ambanis (team owners), Antilia.
The only time I was reminded that there could still be parts of the team’s journey that are not shown, was when Mumbai Indians co-owner Nita Ambani tells her son “Aakash, the camera is on!” when he’s getting worked up during an auction. But then again, there are a lot more times when you can see the cricketers just being themselves.
If I wasn’t following the Mumbai Indians’ journey, didn’t have context about how they were doing in the league and didn’t know who made up their squad — this documentary might not have been of much interest to me.
But for a cricket lover in a country of cricket lovers, the first few episodes of the documentary were never a drag, and they left me wanting to complete the journey with the team.