Fire in Babylon
Not (sorry to disappoint) the latest extravagant description of a one day strike - but a film about how the West Indies built the cricket team that dominated the game from the late 1970s right through the following decade.
The film opens with the touring team’s humiliation in Australia in 1975/6 and shows how they came back under Clive Lloyd’s leadership – trawling the islands to find their own fast bowlers to out-pace and out-bounce Lillee and Thomson.
By the summer of 1976 they were strong enough to trounce an England team led by South African-born Tony Greig, who had hubristically boasted he’d make them “grovel”. It’s here the film makes the connection with a wider assertion of black pride and dignity. That ‘76 series win had a big impact on the self-confidence of the Windrush generation – far more than than the over-hyped Notting Hill Carnival riot, whose main legacy was punk iconography.
The newly powerful West Indies team went on to face down the cricket authorities over their participation in Kerry Packer’s breakaway competition – a chance to earn some decent money at last – and resume their status as the islands’ official team.
The film has its share of quasi-mystical babylon babble – and it skates over the murderous reality of 1970s Jamaican socialism and its opponents. But it soars when Viv Richards takes over from Clive Lloyd and takes the team to new heights, culminating in the 1984 five-nil “blackwash” (their word, not mine!) of David Gower’s England.
Yet while Richards is the inspiration, what makes this more than another tale of sporting triumph is the presence of Colin Croft.
In 1982 another breakaway team left the West Indies – this time to tour apartheid-era South Africa. Richards’ refusal to go meant only minor players went – apart from feted fast bowler Croft. He never played test cricket again, and he resettled in Florida to escape the backlash at home.
Croft’s appearance in the film is achingly sad – torn between pride in his late 70s triumphs, a defence of his right to feed his family and an acceptance of how humiliating the South African adventure turned out to be. And it turns Fire in Babylon from an uplifting documentary into something more.Tagged in: Cricket, West Indies
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