For the fifteen year period between 1980 and 1995, the West Indies utterly dominated world cricket. They were a joy to watch with their fearsome pacemen Michael Holding, Andy Roberts, Colin Croft, Joel Garner and later, Malcolm Marshall terrifying opposition batsmen and sending over forty of them to hospital during those years.
Fire In Babylon (2011) is a documentary about how – following his team’s humiliation in Australia in 1975 at the hands of fast bowlers Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson – and racist taunts from the Australian cricket team and their fans, the new West Indies captain, Clive Lloyd, set about to recruit his own fast bowlers from the Caribbean islands and how they would revolutionise West Indian cricket and go on to inspire black people worldwide.
Arriving in England in the summer of 1976, the West Indies found the England captain, Tony Greig, boasting to TV cameras that he ‘intended to make the West Indies grovel’ – a very unfortunate statement especially given how black people were being treated in apartheid South Africa at the time.
Greig’s remark only served to fire up the West Indies. Clive Lloyd unleashed his new fast bowlers and England literally crumbled at the crease. Normally, a captain would bring on his fast bowlers and then after a while he would rest them and bring on spin bowlers. Clive Lloyd had four lethal fast bowlers at his disposal and so the English batsmen were given no rest or respite whatsoever. The West Indies would go on to win that test series against their old colonial masters. It was a major turning point for West Indian cricket.
And Lloyd did not just have the world’s fastest bowlers, he had perhaps the greatest batsman in the world in his team too. As a young boy at the time, I can recall the incredible swagger with which Viv Richards would walk out on to the pitch. Confident, unafraid and always chewing gum! He would also proudly wear a green, yellow and red rastafarian wrist band. In Fire In Babylon, Viv explains that the green signified the lush scenery of his country, the yellow represented the gold stolen from his ancestors, and the red symbolised the blood spilt in the slave trade.
In 1983 the South African government successfully lured 17 West Indies players – including Colin Croft – to play in their country and reportedly offered Viv Richards a huge sum to do the same. Richards, to his enormous credit, refused. Nelson Mandela himself subsequently sent word from prison to Viv Richards through Archbishop Desmond Tutu to convey his thanks for Viv’s courage and the solidarity he had shown for the black people of South Africa.
The Blu-Ray edition of Fire in Babylon contains a couple of very watchable extras including an interview with David Murray, the West Indies wicket keeper who was one of the rebels who went to South Africa in 1983. It provides a useful insight into the pressures that the West Indies players were facing and the large price they would all pay in coming years for accepting money from the apartheid regime to play in South Africa. There is also a feature with Geoff Boycott, David Gower, Alan Lamb and Imran Khan where they describe what it felt like to face the deadly West Indies pacemen.