ay back in April, when lockdowns were widespread, sport was cancelled and a social calendar was something we were considering as a toilet paper substitute, along came the basketball documentary, The Last Dance, to fill the vast hole that sport had left in our lives. Full of drama, pettiness, backstabbing and arrogance, it was escapism at its peak.
To expect the same from Netflix’s latest sport documentary, Beyond the Boundary, would perhaps be optimistic. As an International Cricket Council production, it was always going to be relentlessly positive, a celebration of the highly successful Women’s T20 World Cup. No problems to see here, move along please.
Of course, there is no question the tournament deserves to be celebrated. With a record Australian crowd for a women’s sporting event and an Australian team who built throughout the tournament towards total dominance in the final, there was excitement and suspense at every turn.
But as nice as it is to celebrate the positives, presenting a warts-and-all perspective on women’s cricket while doing so would perhaps have been more rewarding. Instead of restrained disappointment from Danni Wyatt as she sighed and accepted that nothing could be done about the rain that cost England a chance of competing for a place in the final, let us hear her thoughts on the fact that there were no reserve days planned. As well as the joy of the players as they competed on the world stage, show us the sacrifices they had to make to play at the World Cup because full-time professionalism is a distant dream for most women’s cricketers.
The Thai team were front and centre for much of the documentary. Recognised as one of the true success stories of the tournament, they epitomised what so many people want and expect from women’s sport – playing for the love of the game, always positive no matter the result on the field and above all, grateful for the opportunities they have been given. Their excitement to be in the presence of the Australian and English players was palpable, but it also highlighted the vast inequalities that exist in the sport. The Australian women are hardly high rollers, especially in comparison to their male counterparts, but they are light years ahead of the amateur Thai team – not just in pay, but also access to facilities, coaching and elite competition.
In the end, the most obvious issue with Beyond the Boundary is that it barely trickled over the rope. A rare glimpse into India’s changeroom provided only a couple of friendly teammate-on-teammate interviews that hardly scratched the surface. Aside from that, most of the footage is from the field of play, with extended highlights of key matches underscored by the swell of inspirational music.
The documentary might not be an in-depth examination, but it does a good job of sweeping aside the myths and misgivings still floating around about women’s cricket. The editing is sharp and fast-paced, highlighting the big sixes, diving catches and cartwheeling stumps. The take-home message is that these are highly skilled, hard-working athletes who deserve their place on the world stage.
The narrative unashamedly centres the women playing – there is a brief glimpse of Mitchell Starc supporting Alyssa Healy and a couple of interviews with big names of the men’s game – but the stars of the show are those playing in the tournament. Although we don’t get to see much of their personalities, we hear their voices and perspectives on the games and see their athleticism on the field. With no narrator tying the documentary together, it is the voices of the players that moves the action along.
However, among these voices, the conspicuous absence of Australia’s golden girl Ellyse Perry raises some questions. She was all over the screen in match footage, but not featured at all in post-match interviews. Her injury in Australia’s final pool match against New Zealand was one of the biggest talking points of the tournament, however Perry did not appear in front of the camera to talk about how she felt or discuss her team’s chances in the final. Although she is a private person, Perry has long been the face of the women’s game in Australia and it is strange to see her allowed to lurk in the wings where she would usually be pushed on to centre stage. It leaves the lingering feeling that her injury was at odds with the upbeat positivity of the narrative and would have taken away from the celebratory tone.
While there is clearly a long way to go before female athletes are encouraged to show anger, frustration and unrestrained disappointment in a sporting documentary, this latest offering brings women’s cricket further into the mainstream and provides a glimpse of hope that one day someone might be brave enough to take the audience a little further beyond the boundary.
Beyond the Boundary has been released worldwide on Netflix