Death of a Gentleman

Directors: Sam Collins, Jarrod Kimber, Johnny Blank. Executive Producer: Christopher Hird. 96 minutes

“Does cricket make money in order to exist, or does it exist in order to make money? That is the question at the heart of the documentary Death of a Gentleman.

Four years in the making, it begins by exploring the future of Test cricket in a world bedazzled by the tiddlywinks of Twenty20 and the IPL, and ends up capturing a landscape alarmingly altered by the Big Three – India, Australia, and England – taking over the sport in early 2014. It also compellingly conveys how capitalism and corporate greed have poisoned a game that, in its very rhythms, defies the fast, glitzy, money-mad ways of the modern world…

The soul of the film – made even more evocative by Chris Roe’s poignant score – is the story of the Australian Test cricketer Ed Cowan, whose track runs parallel to all that is going on behind closed doors. Cowan embodies the boyhood dreams of millions. But as Twenty20 corrodes the game’s fabric, there is less room for the scrappy slow-scoring batsman. Just as Test cricket is being shunted out of the consciousness of fans, so Cowan is shunted out of the team.

Would he go through the experience again, the hours of practice, the anxiety of an uncertain future, the disruptions to family life, the tears, the hopes? “In a heartbeat,” he says. It’s hard not to despair at the contrast between the innocence of childhood dreams and the ruthlessness of corporate enterprise.

If you care about cricket, watch Death of a Gentleman.”

Anjali Doshi, The Hindu

“Cowan’s attempts to crack the five-day game and cement a place at the top of Australia’s batting order – he played 18 Tests in little over 18 months – is the most delightful, human and heart-rending strand of Death of a Gentleman, a new documentary about the governance of international cricket that premiered at the Sheffield Documentary Festival and will have a London premiere on July 23, three days after the end of the Lord’s Ashes Test…

There is no smoking gun that exposes the game’s power-brokers for some grand misdemeanour but what there is, in very watchable detail, is a joining of the dots, a laying bare of where the game has got to and where it is headed unless some serious selfless – as opposed to self-interested – action is taken.

Gideon Haigh raises the question – does cricket make money to exist or does it exist to make money? His assertion is that the latter is now the case. Ehsan Mani, the former president of the ICC, describes the Aus-Ind-Eng axis as a “power grab and a money grab”.

But the shiver-down-the-spine moment comes with the sight of Ed Cowan’s wife, Virginia, watching him bat his way to a debut fifty in the Boxing Day Test against India. And the bathetic counter-point to that is the brutal honesty of Cowan following what turns out to be his final Test at Trent Bridge two years ago. Like Test cricket itself, the film is compelling and compulsive viewing.”

John Stern, All Out Cricket

“Last week this column mentioned a film about the state of cricket called Death of a Gentleman, which has just been released. I hadn’t seen it then. I have now. So should you — even if you don’t care about cricket. This is the most important film made about the sport in recent years but it is also a story about global power, illustrating the trajectory of modern history…

In interviews with all the leading characters in this drama, film-makers Sam Collins and Jarrod Kimber construct an argument that is compelling and urgent. They show that many of the biggest names in the sport feel powerless to resist the lure of Indian lucre, or the shift in power. Most fear for the future of Test cricket. But if the film is effective, it’s not because it conveys the fears of these grandees; rather it is because Collins and Kimber are so clearly on the side of decency.

For any game to have moral value, the rules must be the same for all participants. India wants to play by different rules right now. That’s unfair, and damages the game. A game becomes a sport when it is attended by spectators, who turn it into a spectacle. The more spectators there are, the bigger the sport, and the bigger the spectacle.

Right now, cricket is growing exponentially as a sport. In India it is a dazzling spectacle. But it is only growing as a sport and spectacle by undermining the integrity of the game it once was. To make this point isn’t to lament a vanished world; rather it is to stand up for the right of fans to watch a game with meaning. That’s what the makers of Death of a Gentleman have done, and I salute them for it.”

Amol Rajan, London Evening Standard

“I must confess, I watched the documentary Death of a Gentleman with about as much knowledge of cricket as I have of, say, astrophysics or biochemistry. Aside from a pleasant background noise now and again while I am pottering in the kitchen, the rules of the sport mean nothing to me. What I do know, however, is that cricket is a game with a sense of honour, both for the losers as well as the winners. It has standards, and both fans and players respect these.

Not expecting too much of the film I realised that soon after I started watching, I got sucked in. This wasn’t because I was distraught by the thought that Test cricket might disappear from our television screens, in fact, personally, the thought of a five day game never appealed to me whatsoever in the first place. What got me was the story that was rapidly unravelling as Collins and Kimber started to interview the big bananas at the top of the sport…

Told with passion and through interviews with those who love the sport – including the Australian batsman Ed Cowan – Collins and Kimber show that cricket is a game that can bring people together, that should have a heart, and they make a strong case for it to be saved.

However, if anything, this documentary also shows that despite all the goodness that cricket has to offer, money talks, even when the sport is supposed to be that of gentlemen.”

Alexandra Zeevalkink, DocGeeks

It is customary when reviewing a film to build to a climax either of praise or disdain, but I shall not detain you. This is one of the most important documentaries I have seen, and by far the finest about cricket. No one with an interest in the game – including anyone who ever intends to pay again to watch a match – should fail to see it. I watched it with a mounting sense of grief, rage and disgust as it told the story of how three cricketing nations – England, Australia and, calling the tune, India – have stitched up international cricket and with it millions of cricket lovers all over the world.”

Simon Heffer, The Daily Telegraph

“It is one of the finer exponents of long-form sports reporting, in the class of When We Were Kings or Year Of The Dogs, but it plays out as investigative journalism on a grand scale. Its Woodward and Bernstein are a couple of enterprising young cricket scribes – Sam Collins, a plummy “old Etonian” and his dishevelled Aussie expat pal Jarrod Kimber…

The remarkable thing about their film is the amount of access they manage to gain, most notably to N Srinivasan, the controversial former Chairman of the International Cricket Council, former President of the Board of Control for Cricket in India and owner of the Indian Premier League’s Chennai Super Kings. They also have seemingly unfettered access to Lalit Modi, the spurned father of the IPL, and ever-decreasing access to former chairman (now president) of the England and Wales Cricket Board Giles Clarke, who appears hell-bent on stamping himself as the villain of the piece.

Clarke comes across as a caricature of an archetypal movie baddie, huffing and hissing that he has “every right to put [his] board’s interests first”, even above the betterment of the game itself…

If Death plays as an intelligent political thriller with Clarke as its nemesis, the film’s heroic heart derives from an intriguing sub-plot.

Early on, as Ed Cowan prepares to finally debut for Australia, Kimber is heard on the phone begging him to appear in the doco, telling him there could be no doco without him.

He was right. Cowan’s brief journey as Australia’s opener is key to the narrative, and the personal and professional contrast between him and his batting partner, David Warner, is painted as symbolic of the gulf between the classical cricketing conservative and the impetuous swashbuckler…

Cowan admits to a “very short and initial concern” when he viewed the finished narrative.

“They made a very anti-establishment film, and I’m still playing cricket and enjoying cricket – and want to continue to,” he laughs. “So I was a bit concerned I’d be seen as part of that, but it didn’t take long to realise it was an incredibly important film [and] they were very respectful of my story within that. I’m very proud to be associated with the film.” “

Tom Richardson, In Daily (Adelaide)

The journalists who made the documentary, Jarrod Kimber and Sam Collins, were worrying about the future of Test cricket when they started their project in 2011. Immediately a gonzo spirit revealed itself: they didn’t quite know what they were asking or whom they should ask, and their search was as much for the question as the answer.
Indeed, they found the answer before the question. They got an interview with N. Srinivasan – then the omnipotent boss of the Chennai Super Kings – when Srinivasan answered his mobile phone. Weaving words like wisps of steam, evaporating yet embodying pure power, Srinivasan left them without answers but a clear guide towards the question.
They had no such doubts over Giles Clarke, then the nabob of English cricket, whose manifest amour-propre sucked him into an interview, kept letting out rope, and finally hanged him on stringy bile and long-fibred contempt…
Most fans watch it all go by with a kind of helpless anger. As a consciousness-raising exercise, superbly shot by Melbourne cinematographer Anthony Koreny, Death of a Gentleman is attempting to spark a democratic uprising through its petition at www.changecricket.com. Its aim is to ‘demand our governments – elected representatives charged with protecting sport – force their respective cricket boards to reform our beloved game and #changecricket before it’s too late’. A worthwhile aim, and achievable too: it’s bums on seats and eyeballs on TV sets that got cricket into this position, and it’s those same bums and same eyeballs that can rescue it. If they want to.”

Malcolm Knox, The Sydney Morning Herald