Sarah Burt reviews Netflix’s cricket documentary Beyond the Boundary with one big question: can it be both a light and a lesson for women’s sport?
What do you get when you cross two Perrys and one hundred dancing cricket bats?
Apparently a five-month lockdown and a ban on all live sports… and a documentary full of humble athletes that just can’t quite believe they are playing international cricket.
I don’t know about you, but March 8th 2020 may as well have been in another lifetime. In a packed MCG, watching Australia play India following international superstar Katy Perry’s performance, there is little in that narrative that could be executed in our COVID-19 world right now. The thrill that 86,000 people felt the day of the ICC Women’s T20 World Cup Final was also an unknown curtain call that would end live sport for some time.
Watching Beyond the Boundary transported me to our pre-pandemic freedom, celebrating how far women’s sport has come, but the documentary does not offer an in-depth discussion on how far it has to go, despite the footage itself making it glaringly obvious.
From the fanaticism the Thailand team show when meeting Meg Lanning, or India’s Veda Krishnamurthy admitting “this is one world cup when everyone knows that it is actually happening”, throughout the entire documentary, it is clear that there was an underlying sentiment about the competition from the athletes: we are just lucky to be here.
Despite being an overall positive construct, the documentary is peppered with incidental reminders of the discrepancy between the genders in the sport. A tongue-in-cheek suggestion from India’s Jemima Rodrigues that people should learn how to pronounce her name correctly, and Alyssa Healy’s admission that she used to get referred to as “Mitchell Starc’s wife” are simply part and parcel of the everyday experience for these athletes.
Healy indeed provides numerous musings throughout, as is her natutre, mostly surrounding the privilege she feels at just being a part of the game she loves. She says passionately during the competition:
“Even if I’m not there on March 8 playing and running around, I’ll probably be sitting there in the stands to be part of a record. It’s something I never thought I’d see in a women’s sporting fixture in this country. I’ll be there as just a pure fan of the game watching whoever it will be.”
That such attention and celebration was given to this tournament after the many battles that many women’s sports face to build audiences and secure support was wonderful to see earlier this year, and again in this documentary. However, I can’t help but feel that the floodlights are still waiting on council approval. Will women’s cricket ever reach the same level as the men’s?
“You get the sense that this T20 World Cup has the chance to take the game to another extreme level, and not only here in Australia but certainly globally” beams Lisa Sthalekar, Australian cricket commentator, former Australian Captain and recent inductee into the ICC Hall of Fame. But how do we find the balance between celebrating how far we have come while also acknowledging the disparity remaining? How do we curb complacency and use the progression as fuel to the fire rather than letting the embers dwindle? A concern the women in sport community has as we look to recover from the coronavirus pandemic.
To cast a wider net, AFLW and former WBBL star Emma Kearney (North Melbourne Football Club and formerly Melbourne Stars respectively) wrote for The Age that:
“‘Grateful’ or ‘lucky’ are words that get thrown around by many female athletes. ‘I’m just grateful to be playing the game’ or ‘I’m lucky I get paid to play.’ And while we are all thrilled to be playing, gratitude alone doesn’t pay our bills. We deserve this opportunity; the pioneers have worked tirelessly for us to have this opportunity. Now that we have it, we need to be the ones driving social change and along with other women in other professions, having the confidence to ask for better pay and work conditions.”
One significant omission from this documentary was the opportunity to spotlight the profound human stories behind the athletes competing in the tournament. Thailand Captain Sornnarin Tippoch smiles through an opening interview, nodding to the fact that her family is unsure what cricket actually entails.
India’s sixteen-year-old Shefali Verma was the third highest run-scorer in the tournament at a strike-rate of 161, the highest of players to bat more than once, and her career T20 strike-rate of 147 is the best of those to have scored more than 120 international runs. The right-hander made her international debut aged just 15 and broke Sachin Tendulkar’s record as India’s youngest half-centurion, but this was barely mentioned. It seems like a missed opportunity to speak to more of these achievements when women’s cricket was able to have such a spotlight again through this documentary, particularly during a pandemic when the hunger for sporting content is insatiable.
The inclusion of performer Katy Perry provided a bubbly and insightful bookend to Beyond the Boundary.
“There’s definitely a Perry I have to meet at some point, I think she is a lot more athletic than me at the moment,” the heavily pregnant singer laughs as Elysse Perry walks to greet her.
“Tomorrow I’m going to be playing and I’m pregnant… I hope it’s a way to show women that you can do it all, no matter where you are in life… whatever circumstance, whatever you dream, you do not have to be one thing.”
And on not being ‘one thing’, Beyond the Boundary also does not have to be.
It can be a celebration of what was an amazing moment, not just for the Australian Women’s Cricket Team but for women’s cricket and sport across the globe. It can be a chance to reminisce and escape from the current COVID climate, taking us back to a time where we could gather and cheer on our heroes as a collective. And it can also be a reminder that we still have a balance to strike when it comes to telling the stories of women’s sports.
We have so much to celebrate, but so much work left to do.
Beyond the Boundary is currently streaming on Netflix.