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A key World Cup storyline centres on the return of two modern greats to Australia’s squad after serving bans for ball tampering, a story told in Crossing the Line. While Australia celebrates the return of Steve Smith and David Warner, South African fans wonder how much AB de Villiers’ absence will affect their team’s chances. De Villiers made himself unavailable for selection and in a four-part series bearing his name, his greatest innings are reviewed in all their glory. Both of these compelling documentaries are available to stream on Showmax.

Existential strife: Crossing the Line

The scope of Crossing the Line may be narrow compared to other recent cricket documentaries, as it hones in exclusively on Australia’s 2018 tour of South Africa and the controversial actions of Warner, Smith and Cameron Bancroft.

Where it excels is in exploring the existential strife that cricketers face on and off the pitch – and what they will do to win. Mental fortitude is a vital component in cricket, and the way weaknesses are probed, exploited and attacked in the sport is particularly suited to narratives about human fragility.

There is plenty of that in Crossing the Line. From Warner, we see outbursts on the pitch as well as an altercation off it. Smith meanwhile becomes embroiled in a brouhaha involving Kagiso Rabada, South Africa’s premier fast bowler.

“I thought we behaved really well…I don’t think we’ve got any discretions,” Smith says after the second Test, with Rabada in the dock for an alleged shoulder barge.

In hindsight, this was a foolish comment, as in microscopic detail Crossing the Line shows how camera operators at the third Test in Cape Town caught Bancroft using sandpaper on the ball – a banned practice as it gives an unfair advantage to the bowling side.

The initial denials from Smith and Bancroft are comprehensively obliterated by video evidence from 30 cameras. In Crossing the Line, we see the scandal engulf world cricket and Australian society, with the matter carrying such weight that the country’s prime minister is prompted to condemn the team, with Smith as the captain having the farthest to plummet in his fall from grace.

Smith and Warner have now served bans for the indiscretions shown in Crossing the Line and are back for the World Cup. Both can expect hostile treatment from crowds at the tournament. Both are fabulous players, though, and from a cricketing perspective their talents have been missed.

Perfection doesn’t come easily: AB de Villiers

Of missing talents, none is more conspicuous than that of AB de Villiers. The best viewing of AB de Villiers comes in episode 3, which highlights de Villiers’ record-breaking One Day International performance at the Wanderers against the Windies in 2015. Known as Mr 360 for his ability to hit the ball to every corner of the park, de Villiers did just that to break numerous records, including the fastest-ever century in ODIs, which came off 31 balls (the previous best was 36).

Yet the post-match interview with de Villiers offers telling insight into what it takes to be the best of the best. Despite a near-perfect 149 off just 44 balls in total, including 16 sixes and 9 fours, de Villiers is upset that he failed to score off a few deliveries. “I must be honest with you, it actually irritated me,” he says.

It is a timely reminder of the greatness that South Africa will be missing when they take on England in the opening match of the Cricket World Cup.

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