Being too chicken to storm cinema halls to watch 83, a friend’s nudge towards Inside Edge Season 3 on Amazon became the starting point for much: insight, revelation, eyerolling, giggling. The third season – all ten episodes of it – had been out on December 3, and I was told it was so full of the familiar that it had to be seen. Despite being a sucker for sports movies, documentaries and novels, Inside Edge’s first two seasons (July 2017 and December 2019) had not even sneezed in my direction. A tech slow-starter, I’d steered clear of streaming until Covid struck.
Inside Edge, I discovered, had made enough noise to be noticed. Karan Anshuman, series’ creator, director and writer tells me it is the first Indian drama show released internationally on any streaming platform and was also nominated for an International Emmy. Naturally, to relish the recency thrill of S3, 20 episodes of the first two seasons had to be seen at binge speed. A disclaimer here: this is not a cinematic, theatrical review of Inside Edge. It’s not about the acting, overacting, story arc, character development or even a dissection of the authenticity or otherwise of Inside Edge’s cricket.
This is about what else Inside Edge contained through its 20-plus hours of cricket, politics, cricket politics, guns, roses, sex, drugs and rock-n-rolling. Some cricket people have watched it with equal parts bemusement, ridicule and recognition. About some segments, others say, “that is exactly what happened. Exactly.”
Inside Edge occupies two worlds – one that required OTT OTT. Coaches are flung off roofs, cricketers have quickies in the stadium before going to bat, shots are fired in dressing rooms, food fights break out in the Indian team, everything with the most ear-burning collection of Hindi profanity. In case you wondered what meant what, subtitles help. But Inside Edge also offered a parallel track of unnerving clarity around the world of illegal betting, how spot fixes work, how odds can be manipulated during matches and what else was possible through T20 franchise cricket.
“This is a bookie…” an episode begins, “this is also a bookie…” and we see the entire food chain, team owners’ henchmen in a conference room around computers, small-time operators routinely rounded up by the police and the ‘part time’ bookie, your friendly neighbourhood paanwallah. While there is considerable cinematic licence at play in the series, like someone said, “well, we don’t really know what goes on in those hospitality boxes do we?” What if there weren’t any anti-corruption officers at Games? Or DRS to prevent bent umpiring? Suppose random people had access to dugouts during games? Oh, wait that’s what the early IPL was like. What if the many innocuous changes of bat or gloves are not just about needing better gear? Who knows what goes on in the many T20 leagues proliferating in the world? Gulp.
In between Inside Edge’s masala, there’s meat. Like the battle over TV rights using the ‘transparent’, look-no-hands sanitised e-auction. Except that if you have been told what the top numbers needs to be – double-crossing is possible – then the e in that e-auction stands for Elementary. No one is saying it happens in the real world, of course. But it can.
Series creator Anshuman, an old-style cricket fan had been sitting on his cricket-Bollywood-betting script from 2013 onwards as his response to the outbreak of franchise cricket madness. “It was some way to marry the idea of the drama that happens with T20, into a series mixed with entertainment.”
Saurav Dey, one of the series’ writers, “the kind of fan who will argue any issue threadbare all day on forums …” travelled to watch every India home match between 2011 and 2014 from the stands. He was the one who wrote the fictional scorecards that flash for a few seconds on screen and followed matches with betfair switched on to see how odds move. Before shooting for Season1 began, the actors-players picked went in for three months of training, former Maharashtra and Bengal batsman Srikanth Kalyani over-seeing the cricket shooting to keep everyone’s technique in shape.
The first two seasons focussed on T20 – teams, owners, players and the Power Play League – reflecting what Anshuman calls franchise cricket’s “zoo-like atmosphere.” The third swirled around a once in a generation Test series vs Pakistan. Anshuman’s grin is audible, “We wanted to show how in the end all good things happen in Test cricket,” he said. The writers “borrowed heavily from real life, actual cricket and plugged them into the drama.”
Former cricketers – Rohan Gavaskar, Atul Wassan, Nikhil Chopra, even current chairman of selectors Chetan Sharma – show up in commentary boxes, with broadcaster Gautam Bhimani in a particularly convincing cameo.
Inside Edge’s messaging around women was a big relief. There are all kinds, sinners, winners, dominatrix, femme fatales, good, bad and plain mean. They feature within the game itself too, through a nerdy team analyst and a bowling coach. In one episode, Saurav said “we wanted to show Rohini’s smartness and tried to find out how spinners had been decoded… Mendis, Murali everyone, but it was quite normal, simple stuff.” In S1E3, Rohini the analyst discovers an ace spinner’s distinctive ‘tell’ – and the difference between his leg-break and his mystery ball – by studying his non-bowling arm making subconscious movements. This was released in July 2017. In 2018, Reddit discussions began around Afghanistan spinner Rashid Khan’s non-bowling hand showing two different movements for the googly and his leg break. “What we had imagined,” Saurav laughed, “had come true.”
Inside Edge ended up being the hoot my friend promised because in it, by S3, India had a woman Prime Minister, a Muslim home minister, a transgender hacker and a displaced India captain called Rohit who is closet gay. There is a hectoring anchor on Patriot TV and the night before the Test series vs Pakistan, some maniacs wearing saffron dig up the pitch in the Mumbai stadium.
When a woman (a former movie star franchise owner) takes over the Indian Cricket Board (its logo resembling the ICC’s), a roomful of stunned cricket officials is given this cracker of an instruction: “Aankhen neechi, mooh band, kaan aur dhyaan meri taraf.” (eyes down, mouth shut, all ears and attention, on me). Such asskickery. But to be fair, that’s precisely how the BCCI operates with whoever is its latest Main Man.
Anshuman is not sure whether there’s going to be an Inside Edge S4, but for God’s sakes, look where you’ve left us. The Indian captain’s just been arrested and Rohit’s come out of the closet.