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When West Indies ruled the world

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Oliver Brett | 10:30 UK time, Wednesday, 18 May 2011

West Indies were once known as the "calypso cricketers". It was a slightly patronising description which reflected the fact that while, at their best, they could provide rich entertainment, all too often they went home a beaten side.

Then something happened. They became good, very good indeed as the authoritative captaincy of Clive Lloyd turned them into a brilliant match-winning machine. They had the game's most dominant batsman, Viv Richards, and the most fearsome fast bowlers in the world.

The great era of Caribbean cricket, which began with their success in the inaugural World Cup of 1975 and continued into the early 1990s, is viewed with a greater sense of nostalgia now than ever before in light of the prolonged demise the game has endured in the Caribbean since then.

And so it is that when watching Stevan Riley's new film Fire in Babylon, which goes on general UK release on Friday, you cannot help but feel those glory days are lost in time, evoking a brand of cricket West Indies will never replicate.

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Riley employs three narrative methods. Firstly, of course, he uses splendid footage of selected series in Australia and England, brought to life vividly on the big screen (it comes as a real treat if you have grown used to the pixellated, cramped confines of youtube for such memories).

The second story-telling device comes in the form of present-day interviews with the legendary West Indies players. Michael Holding, a professional pundit now, is wonderfully eloquent. Andy Roberts, his fellow former fast bowler, also provides intelligent insight. And you only have to look at Richards' eyes - still burning with the passion that seems to have escaped the current generation of West Indian cricketers - to feel the emotion of the time, and the drama of what became a crusade against the established powers.

Holding describes an early setback by revealing how he sat down by the wicket and wept in despair, out of sheer disbelief that "anyone could play the game of cricket this hard". But they responded, and how. For Richards "my bat was my sword".

The third narrative format is what takes this film firmly away from the realm of those prosaically efficient videos produced by the satellite sports channels.

Riley's added spice comes through the contributions of non-cricketers. There are interviews with Rastafarians - some famous like Bunny Wailer, others less so - lyrically opining about the wonder of Richards and Gordon Greenidge in their prime, or the poetic pace of the fast bowlers.

And, most surprisingly of all, there are some enchanting musical interludes. Various bands who one suspects would be familiar only to older Caribbean viewers are filmed performing gentle cricketing ballads. These mostly take place outdoors against carefully constructed backdrops.

Triumph through adversity is the film's principal theme. The players on the 1975-76 tour of Australia, where the story begins, recall the racism they suffered from the fans, and the pummelling they received on the pitch from the Australian fast bowlers Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson.

West Indies were World Cup holders at the time, but the film pitches them as talented but fundamentally naive underdogs up against a ferocious, streetwise Australian side who handed out a no-nonsense 5-1 beating.

Gordon Greenidge

The helmetless Gordon Greenidge hooks England's Norman Cowans for four in the 1984 series (Getty)

The 1976 tour of England that followed was the breakthrough series. A home side led by Tony Greig was swept aside 3-0 with Holding and Roberts in full cry, despite a sweltering summer resulting in wickets that should have helped the batsmen.

From then on, it's pretty much a tale of unbridled success, taking in the 1979-80 series in Australia where revenge was sweetly obtained with a side now incorporating the likes of Desmond Haynes, Joel Garner and Colin Croft, and the famous "blackwash" tour of England in 1984, by which time the terraces at grounds like The Oval were overspilling with West Indian fans, obtains its rightful place too.

Riley is no cricket buff, and does not become buried in the complexity of individual matches and the kind of detail that would appeal only to anoraks, rather than the broader audience the film is hoping to capture. But that is not to say that there is an over-simplification of broader issues.

For example, appalled by the pocket-money salaries dished out by the West Indies Cricket Board, we see the players accept the invitation from media magnate Kerry Packer to play in his World Series in the late 1970s. These are the renegade matches in Australia where coloured clothing was worn for the first time - look out for some fetching all-pink kits.

The cricket also sits alongside a wider political background. The Caribbean itself faced something of an identity crisis as it struggled to deal with a serious economic slump once the post-independence honeymoon had run its course.

Meanwhile, racial tension was an unwelcome undercurrent in England in the early 1980s. No wonder those fans at The Oval, so close to some of the worst race riots in Brixton, responded so readily to the all-conquering efforts of the 1984 team.

Burnt out buildings in Brixton, April 1981

The Brixton riots of 1981 provide a political subtext to Fire in Babylon (Getty)

The very title of the film puts further focus on race issues. Babylon's conquest of Jerusalem in antiquity left the Jews without a home, and is used in Rastafarian culture as a metaphor for what happened to Africans torn from their homeland by the slave trade.

Thus, Fire in Babylon inevitably reflects on how Richards famously turned down blank cheques, twice, to play on rebel tours of South Africa, in the early 1980s.

Most of the star names also steered well clear, but others did not and thus implicitly were seen to support the apartheid government.

One of the most poignant interviews comes when fast bowler Croft explains his decision to accept the South African rand. He starts off on the defensive, before appearing more rueful and apologetic later on.

On immediate reflection, the film appears to lack a neutral voice. There are no present-day interviews with any of the West Indies' adversaries of the time, for example.

But perhaps Riley's judgement is correct. This is not intended to be a dispassionate observation of cricket as played by the West Indians 30-odd years ago, it is about how it was in their own eyes.

Fire in Babylon is a joyous experience for a cricket fan, and I see no reason why it cannot be equally enjoyed by someone with a limited appreciation of the noble old game. Go and see it while you can. But before you do, a quick warning - you might never want to watch an Indian Premier League game again.

Listen to BBC Radio 5 live's West Indies cricket special from 2100-2230 BST on Wednesday 18 May.


  • Comment number 1.

    Looking forward to seeing this one evokes memories of when BBC cricket coverage was king and Peter West introduced the programme & highlights on 'Primetime' tv slots.

    Can't help but feel that the 'modern game' has stiffled their threat with tailored pitches, limitations on bouncers and the leg side wide making bowling on leg stump / at the batsman an often costly strategy. The game leans heavily towards the batsman with more protection from equipment & umpires also wielding bigger/lighter bats.

    Long live the speed kings!

  • Comment number 2.

    The world was better place when the calypso kings ruled (and I'm an Englishman).

    I really enjoyed the hard cricket played by real men back then. Cricket is far too sanitised now (although I still enjoy my cricket it has to be said).

    I look forward to watching the film and don't worry it won't affect my opinions towards the utter dross otherwise known as the IPL.

  • Comment number 3.

    I remember Ian Botham talking about Viv Richards being offered plenty of money to go play in South Africa,where he would be treated as "An honorary white man".Ghastly phrase.

  • Comment number 4.

    Thanks for such a nice, thoughtful and sensitive piece. I remember the mythos that the West Indies' pre-eminence in cricket had for me personally, as I was a young black man in my twenties, not quite certain of my place in society. I also remember feeling very appreciative that Ian Botham did not take the South African thirty pieces of silver, and my firm impression that it was because of the kind of person he intrinsically was, rather than because of his friendship with Richards, as some SA-sympathisers used to hint.

  • Comment number 5.

    No interest in IPL whatsoever anyway. 20/20 every now and again is perfectly acceptable - essentially variety is the spice of life. I have no time for watching one 20/20 game after another, churned out day after day.

    For me, nothing beats the depth of test cricket, with it's ebbs and flows between one side and the other.

    I was a child of the 70/80's and used to get pretty bored of England being punished by West Indies in 1984 and the second blackwash series later in the 80's, but there is no denying how great they were. England occasionally got close, but then someone in the West Indies line up, such as Gus Logie or Jeffrey Dujon would rescue them with the bat. It is such a shame Malcolm Marshall died so young.

    I don't feel we'll see their like again in my lifetime. There was a wholly different spirit back then that whilst I still enjoy cricket today, it is different. Maybe it's the difference between watching it as a child, and watching it as an adult.

  • Comment number 6.

    Was a bit young to experience the racism the WI suffered from in 75-76 (though I am sure it was there!), but growing up through the 80's there was nothing we looked forward to more than the 'Calypso Kings' coming Down Under! The excitement, passion and joy that they bought to both forms of the game was infectious. They totally dominated us during the late eighties and I truly believe that alot of the domination that the later Oz teams had, can be attributed to those great WI teams that most of the players would have grown up idolising. So sad that basketball and baseball offers so much more reward financially, and political infighting is killing cricket in the WI

  • Comment number 7.

    Such a shame that only 5 people are interested enough to comment! I was too young to watch any of these series but look forward to seeing the film.
    I agree with the others too, not watching another IPL game wouldn't bother me at all. I may be a young cricketer but it's all about the test matches for me!

  • Comment number 8.

    An era of really nasty fast bowlers (somehow the modern fast bowlers don't seem to dominate the batsmen in quite same way). As a white boy growing up and playing cricket at the time, Malcolm Marshall was all I wanted to be - he could do anything with the ball. I cried when he died. In retirement, Michael Holding is the epitomy of a cultured gentleman, observant with wit and humour and no spite who nevertheless says what he thinks. WI have occasionally had the odd great cricketer eg Lara and some good ones, Chanderpaul and Sarwan but not enough of them. I hope their turn comes again.

  • Comment number 9.

    I remeber the great WIndies of the 70s and 80s and after the whitewash and blackwash BBC2 showed a documentary asking if English cricket could ever match that of the WIndies. The TCCB sent over an under 19s team which played an under 16s WI XI that it was an even match. With the rise in US sports being seen in the WI young talented cricketers saw that cricket was a poor sports relation to other sports and thus decided not to persue a career in cricket but play a more lucrative sports. Even Usain Bolt was a talented fast bowler who has made more money in athletics than he would in cricket.

    The WICB have not got the money to be able to entice more talented youngsters to take up the sport. If T20 can encourage more youngsters around the world to take up the glorious game that is cricket then that can only be a good thing. Once these youngsters are in the door then they can be introduced to the intricacies of the first class game.

  • Comment number 10.

    I've followed the West Indies boy and man [Guyanese by birth] and remember the 1984 series and then the following return series in the West Indies when England were again beaten 5-0. Only time this has happened back to back.

    Unfortunately, the lure of big money in the US [basketball and US football] has taken away many of the athletes who otherwise would have gone into cricket. Coupled with the reduction of overseas players [many of 84 team played County Cricket] in England meant that solid replacements could not be found. Hence the position the W.I. are in now. I read somehwere that 20 years has been suggested before the W.I can once again complete at the top level. I fear it will be longer than that.

  • Comment number 11.

    Great times can not wait to see the film as an English cricket supporter. It is a shame the current West Indies team is not as strong. One thing is for sure that this team is far superior than the recent (though not current) Aussie team which ruled world cricket. I would have loved to see Mr Holding, Roberts and the rest soften up Punter and Company. Sorry aussie you were not in the same league.

  • Comment number 12.

    My love of cricket started when I watched Sir Viv score that century at Lords to help the WI win the 79 world cup. Even as a kid urging England to win you just had to stop still and admire it. Very few sportsmen have the ability to stop you in your tracks because you simply have to watch them. Viv did that. Whilst the non stop pace attack was sometimes a little tiresome it won them matches and if only the West Indies team of 84 could have played the Australian team under Steve Waugh's captaincy.....that would have been some contest!!

  • Comment number 13.

    I still love the great WI team. Aptly recall the song " We are the Champions". They were & will always be. I mean which team can boast of players like Hayens, Greenidge, Richie richardson, Richards the king, Gus Logie, Roger harper, Carl Hooper, Dujon, Marshall, Walsh, Ambrose ..... Just awesome.....

  • Comment number 14.

    Those were the days ...... I was a boy of only 15 when WI beat the living daylights of Eng 5-0 in 1984 and then SL drew at lords. Forget SL for now, but no team will come even close to that WI's teams of the 70's, 80's and aerly 90's. I loved every second of watching them. They played fair, no talking, just plain beautifull to watch.

    Man o man, the most fearson of any pace line up ever ..... Marshall, Holding, Roberts, Garner and not to mention their back ups in the likes of Baptist, Croft, Patterson, Ambrose, Walsh, ...... then came their batting ..... probably the best opening pair ever to play test cricket followed by the "King" himself, Kallicharan, Lloyd and backing up with Gomes and Richardson. Murrey and Dujon were at the peak with the gloves.

    It was like a train in motion, so beautifull but yet so deadly, no one had any chance that stood in their way. Their record of not losing a test series is still not matched. The recent Aussi teams of Taylor, Waugh and Pontings all lost test series but not that magical WI team.

    Cricket will never be the same, and to be honest my love for this sport is soon fast fading with too much money and curruption.

  • Comment number 15.

    I saw this film last night at a preview where the producer gave a talk. Really enjoyable and about so much more than cricket. A good film for anyone interested in the post-colonial experience of the West Indies - and you will flinch as those balls hit their targets. Great music too.

  • Comment number 16.

    I spent more than one memorable day at Headingly watching cricket. Though no day was any better than when the West Indies were in town and making a mockery of our then cricket team.

    Cricket is not the same sport as it was back then. Sadly, what sport is?

    The fierce spirit they had with both bat and ball was enthralling. And then to look on in amazement watching them laugh & drink with the players they had just pounded. THAT is what sport should be about. Play hard and agressive, but be good friends afterwards.

    There will never be their likes again, in cricket or any other sport. They all loved to play, now all that truly seems to matter is how much money can be made. All sports, now, reward players too highly before they actually get their careers started and prove their worth.

  • Comment number 17.

    Definitely going to watch the movie. I'm sure cricket fans of all eras can not only enjoy it but relate to it as well. Those cricketers played the game not only with passion but with the belief that they had it in them. I've seen a few videos before but the larger than life movie experience is going to be enthralling, no doubt.

    Oliver, the predictably tasteless and uncalled for dig at IPL in the end shows yet again how cricket writers like yourself, ex-players, 606 bloggers in this country are fixated to anything IPL. Anywhere else in the world, one wouldn't see IPL & the dominant West Indies cricket in the same article. You only add an extension to how insecure and obsessed people in this country feel about IPL.

    Apart from that, it was a good write up.

  • Comment number 18.

    Thanks for the trip down Memory Lane Oliver. I grew up with the Cheltenham Cricket Festival, Mike Proctor and Zaheer Abbas, and Brian Close recalled to the England team in a desperate last ditch 'bruising' attempt to stem the Caribbean bandwagon. Alvin Kallicharan, the big Viv Richards 200, Clive Lloyd, Rohan Kanhai et al, and the false security at seeing Keith Boyce (saw him hit a big six into the College pavilion one year) coming on to replace Michael Holding, Joel Garner(?) or Andy Roberts are abiding memories. When asked what he thought of the England bowling attack as a co-commentator on Test Match Special in the West Indies, Colin Croft's straight to the point one word reply was "Carp" (sic) I remember an unblinkered colleague of mine enjoying sharing with me.

    I too was shocked to hear of Malcolm Marshall's premature death. Was there ever a more beautiful bowling action? It might have been Jim Laker who thought his series (1984) was over after breaking his arm, but the Windies weren't going to make a broken arm an excuse, and you suspect they were going to enjoy showing us it needed more than that handicap for England to have a chance of winning. MM came out to bat one handed with his arm in a cast! Did he get a 50? Don't say anything Colin Croft?! And would he be able to bowl? Would he be able to bowl?!.....

    A few suggestions have been given above, but I fail to understand how the Windies went into such a dramatic decline.

  • Comment number 19.

    I have recently prayed for the W.I. cricket team - that one day soon we shall witness a revival in their fortunes, and I think I shall continue to do so.

  • Comment number 20.

    "And you only have to look at Richards' eyes - still burning with the passion that seems to have escaped the current generation of West Indian cricketers"

    While I eagerly anticipate this documentary, I feel the sentence above has done great injustice to many of the players post 1990. I am from the generation that has rarely seen the Windies win or dominate any format of the game. While there have been many individual jewels (Lara, gayle, Chanders, Hooper and many others) West Indian cricket has most definitely lost its Crown. But I do not think it has to do with the lack of passion form the players. I firmly believe that it is the ruinous running of cricket in the region and the selfish agendas of administrators, players, coaches and other power-hungry corrupt officials that have ruined the beautiful game in the region. The current players have always lived in awe of the greats. Unfortunately, IMO they believe that no matter what they do, they can never come close to these cricketing legends. Instead of praising and putting things in place for them and the future generation, the Caribbean people (myself included on many occasions) choose to deride and find fault in everything they do/say, no matter how hard they try. This gets worse when they capitulate so pitifully. They no longer repsect the greats but now come to dislike or even hate them because they are constantly measured by their past achievements. The passion is still there but because we choose to look at the past rather than the present and prepare for the future, Windies cricket will never attain the heights we once climbed. At the end of the day, loyal Windies fans like myself will still support our boys no matter how much it hurts because they choose to represent us on the cricketing stage. RRDWI!

  • Comment number 21.

    This is a must-see for me. But will it show anywhere in the north-west?

  • Comment number 22.

    No doubt a captivating film - it is hard to reconcile the current poverty of West Indian cricket with the super-dominance it achieved in the 1980s.

    A few points though - the famous West Indian pace attack was, with a few noble exceptions, a collection of thugs who sought to injure opposing batsmen and very often succeeded, ending several careers in the process. Had they been English or Australians (cf Bodyline) then they would be reviled today rather than revered.

    And the "political context" of the Brixton riots was one of mass mob violence, not of some righteous fight against oppression. Police casualties during the riots outscored civilian casulties by an order of magnitude - not something you'd expect considering the narrative of events that has come to be accepted over the past 30 years.

  • Comment number 23.


    "A few points though - the famous West Indian pace attack was, with a few noble exceptions, a collection of thugs who sought to injure opposing batsmen and very often succeeded, ending several careers in the process. Had they been English or Australians (cf Bodyline) then they would be reviled today rather than revered.

    And the "political context" of the Brixton riots was one of mass mob violence, not of some righteous fight against oppression. Police casualties during the riots outscored civilian casulties by an order of magnitude "

    Absolute nonsense about the fast bowlers. Brutal? Yes. But also bewitching to watch and beautiful in its own way. Name me one career that was ended?

    As for the 2nd part of your diatribe, nowhere does the writer mention any kind of righteousness or oppression. I suppose you think apatheid was a 'fuss about nothing' If this is all you can offer to a blog about a CELEBRATION of something, then get back to the Daily Mail website......

  • Comment number 24.

    #5 Suggests that the spirit in cricket is different today than it was back then. Whilst things always change, I don't think they have as much as he suggests. The Ashes series in 2005 perhaps being a case in point.

  • Comment number 25.

    Hope the film makes it to DVD. I live in France. I was lucky enough to see the last few years of the good West Indian sides, not great ones; just before Lara and the time of Sir Viv's retirement at the Oval. I recall keeper Gus Logie being such a sweet timer, always batting at 6.

    The current side showed some fight against Pakistan albeit on a dodgy pitch. Bishoo (predictive text wants to write 'Bishop' - perhaps it knows a thing or two!) seems promising. I detect growth in West Indies cricket. I'm an England fan but would like to see healthy Carribean cricket again. Not too healthy mind...

  • Comment number 26.

    The test at the oval in 1976 saw three performances of the highest quality-i would suggest neither before nor since has there been three better individual performances in a single test. Viv Richards scored 291 and Michael Holding destroyed England with 14 wickets but not before Dennis Amiss had made a triumphant return to test cricket scoring a double hundred

    Headingley 81 is always remembered but for me this test remains my favourite-not least as Amiss was and remains my sporting hero

  • Comment number 27.

    @22: I assume you are of the ilk who think Women members of the MCC is a disgrace. Xenophobia runs through your veins.

  • Comment number 28.

    I first saw the West Indies at Bournemouth in 1957 and they were the calypso boys then, and probably had been for decades. Like most things from this lot of BBC journos, anything prior to their diaper days is too easily dismissed.

    Interestingly Gordon Greenidge was qualified to play for England and played first class cricket for Hampshire before he represented Barbados.

  • Comment number 29.

    go to my cricket videos on youtube

  • Comment number 30.

    Scanning all comments relating to vintage West Indies, in vain I search for mention of the greatest player of them all. Sir Garfield Sobers.
    For sure, he preceded this golden era of cricket, but set a standard of supreme eminence for all of his countrymen to aspire. Arguably,the most complete cricketer of all time.

  • Comment number 31.

    Great team and at with seemingly superhuman bowling attack. Its a shame these days that the oval no longer allows the horns that made the Oval match such a vibrant and exciting match to watch.

  • Comment number 32.

    No doubt they were the masters of all they surveyed for a good while there and we all hope to see them re-emerge.

    West Indian cricket should be strong.

    In NZ, though, we saw a less savoury side to the team in the 1979-80 Tour. The Test series was lost to NZ and the umpiring was questioned often and vehemently ( and probably with some justification ). During and after the first Test there were several incidents - including the barging of the umpire Fred Goodall and the kicking down of the stumps. Maybe a bit too much passion in that case.

  • Comment number 33.

    6. Fascinating observation there about Aussies reacting to Windies dominance and thus imitating them.... Maybe...

    14. Nice comments - "train in motion" pretty much sums it up in a lovely metaphor.

    18. I'm afraid it is true that other sports have been managed better in the West Indies, and thus been able to lure young hopefuls with better support, financial and otherwise.

    20. Fair argument, though I think it's a little bit of both. And look at the remarkably talented Chris Gayle, apparently having given up on West Indies cricket, instead breaking records at the IPL. What a poor role model he has become for the younger ones.

    22. I guess it would be boring if everyone agreed with each other, but the counterpoint to your argument is Holding's performance at The Oval in '76 - almost nothing short-pitched, everything full length and yorkers - and that's how he tended to get people out. And I'm not taking sides in looking at Brixton.

    28. Did I say there was an official start date for the "calypso cricket" era?

  • Comment number 34.

    Never got to see them but watching videos you can see the class, style, dominance and all round talent that they had. Don't think the spirit has gone out of the game, The last few ashes series (maybe barring the last one) I believe there was the same mix of ultra competitive "I wouldn't mind break this guys wrist" nature on the field coupled with lighted heart having a drink off the field. People like Lee and Flintoff are testament to that.

    Can't see WI cricket recovering too soon though, whole system seems messed up. Would like to know from a local if there lacking interest at basic level or is it the set up in place over in the Caribbean?

  • Comment number 35.

    I am an American who only came to love cricket (and really only test cricket) in the late 1990s. As someone who appreciates the history of the game, I have read widely and see what recordings I can. But the devastating Windies of the late-70s/early80s...this is the one which holds my imagination in a mythological grip. Even across 30 years one can feel the intimidation of Viv Richards at the crease, the nervous anticipation of Michael Holding or Big Bird Garner in the run-up...Even today, if I could get them, I would watch every ball of a Calypso King test match.

  • Comment number 36.

    Hello Oliver hello everyone thankfully i was old enough to remember West Indian cricket during the 1980's. I specially enjoyed West Indies 5-0 win against England in 1984 and 1986 in the Caribbean. West Indies was great side because there was no weak link in the side also on many Occasion they had to beat the bias English umpires on there inconsistent LBW decisions. To my parents cricket wasn't just about cricket. It was fighting the evil colonial attitude. Comment No 22 made by beardsmoreforengland is talking aload of rubbish. England had fast bowlers before West Indies. Fred Truman is example. West Indies use to rely on the spin bowling of Lance Gibbs. The Brixton riots were a fight against ignorant injustice to Black people which still exist today. A good example is the Stephen Lawrence case which has been mentioned today. Everybody mention more recently about Australia dominating squad Captained by Mark Taylor Steve Waugh and Ricky Ponting. But the fact is there teams would have been ripped apart by the sides captained by Clive Lloyd and Isaac Vivian Richards. They probably would have been crying like Kim Hughes. West Indies are victims of the current rubbish ruling of one bounce ball per over. The current West Indian generation are a waste of space. They have got awful attitude. Also the West Indian Cricket board are a disgrace. What happened to BBC West Indies tour archive? I noticed recently you only show the 1976 series. You use to be able to see tours from 1950's up to 1990's. Another injustice is the way in this country Black history is hidden. The BBC is guilty of not educating people properly.

  • Comment number 37.

    These wonderful sportsmen of whom you speak were nothing other than cricketing thugs as those of us who recall the 1976 series when their bowling attack and partcularly Michael Holding continually bowled short-pitched deliveries and countless 'beamers' at batsmen such as Brian Close (read Ian Botham's biography if you need confirmation). Vicious, physical intimidation at its worst, nothing more, nothing less.

  • Comment number 38.

    Isaac12 you may be correct in alot of what you say, but to say the Steve Waugh Aussie team would have been ripped apart by the Calypso Kings is not only wrong but naive! Yes, they were one of the greatest sides ever, but so were the aussie team. You can say all you like about bouncers and the like but that top order would have struggled against the McGrath/Warne combination at their peak just like everyone else did. To not acknowledge this would just show you up as not being a true cricket fan.

  • Comment number 39.

    I was hoping against hope, that since this was an article about WI, the author would not have anything to say for or against India.
    Lo and behold : He had to say something about IPL.
    Why could not he say something like "But before you do, a quick warning - you might never want to watch the present WI team again" or "But before you do, a quick warning - you might never want to watch the English 20/20 league again" OR "But before you do, a quick warning - you might never want to watch a bIG bASH game again."

  • Comment number 40.

    @John (38) This coming from someone whose team could only get Bradman out by bowling round the wicket bouncers non stop to batsmen with no protection on what were uncovered pitches at the time. Pot. Kettle. Black comes to mind. And using Botham as a reference of opposition teams using intimidation is laughable!!! Get a grip son!

  • Comment number 41.

    I don't condone how Jarvis instructed Larwood to bowl either but still doesn't alter the fact that Clive Lloyd deliberately pursued a strategy to intimidate batsmen to the point of inflicting serious injury. I refer to Botham to emphasize these are not just my opinions but those widely held in the cricketing world. It's just a shame that one of the greatest sides in the history of the game felt obliged to employ such 'win at all costs' tactics.

  • Comment number 42.

    hinnavaru. In case you have not noticed none of the other tourneys you have mentioned are available on free to air tv in the uk, and last time I checked no one was getting paid over $1,000,000 to play in it! How about the BCCI or DLF chips in a bit of cash to the WI cricket board so that we can get the WI back to what we all remember them being!!!

  • Comment number 43.

    So Botham writing this in his own book makes it a widely held view does it? Gimme a break! Clive Lloyd played to his strengths as so far you have not been able to back up your assertion that careers were ended!

  • Comment number 44.

    Apologies John was not you who mentioned the career ending stuff.

  • Comment number 45.

    I did not say careers were ended - I said it was physical intimidation which is precisely what was meted out to Brian Close and Mike Gatting later when his jaw was rearranged in similar circumstances. Try actually reading the comments of others rather than inventing your own quotes.

  • Comment number 46.

    #22 I found these comments very sad on the day when it has been announced that the crown will prosecute two men for the murder of Stephen Lawrence.

    The West Indies pace battery was scary, but that's the game. Who wouldn't want to have some lively fast bowlers on their team? If the West Indian pacemen were thugs, what does that make Lillee and Thomson?

    These West Indian teams were not only talented but amazingly professional too - players like Larry Gomes might not have been the most talented but he had an incredibly good record.

    I can't quite work out who the top four pacemen of that era were. Marshall was probably the best thinker, and Holding the fastest; Roberts set the standard for those who followed; for me it's a toss-up for fourth spot between The Big Bird Joel Garner, the world's best yorker bowler, and the incredible Curtly Ambrose who with his mate Courtney Walsh carried a team on his shoulders

  • Comment number 47.

    Apology accepted. I can still recall during the heatwave of 1976 Viv Richards slaughtering the English bowling,backed up by several other world class batsmen. Malcom Marshall was one on the finest bowlers ever and in his prime like Richard Hadlee was unplayable. Tong Greig made the mistake of using the infamous 'grovel' term before the 1976 series started which fired up the West Indies even futher but should not condone how they approached the game. In the days before helmets its a miracle someone wasn't killed.

  • Comment number 48.

    The only problem I have is that the game has become a batsmens game! Protection has improved 50 fold so I don't understand why the 1 bouncer rule is still in operation! And lets not even mention the pitches that are being prepared these days!!! The beauty of the old game was that it was actually a TEST between batsmen and bowlers, but these days Money is everything and the boards want 5 day tests even if they are dull to the spectators!!!!

  • Comment number 49.

    David Tossell wrote a wonderful book about the summer of 76 and how west indies came to dominate world cricket. i often wondered how England would have faired that year had Boycott played. One thing i learned from reading that book was Sir Geoff had actually agreed to return to test cricket that summer but broke his hand playing for Yorkshire. it could have been very interesting especially as Edrich bowed out that same summer

  • Comment number 50.

    I was at the Oval on the Saturday in 1976 and can't wait to relive those memories. This was the moment when Holding started to rip into the England batsmen (Amiss had held things up) and cemented the West Indian superiority. They were real athletes and the fielding was like nothing I'd ever seen before. I also remember the good humour of the crowd...people were there to enjoy the cricket rather than score political I hope the film doesn't try and get too clever.

  • Comment number 51.


    "And so it is that when watching Stevan Riley's new film Fire in Babylon, which goes on general UK release on Friday, you cannot help but feel those glory days are lost in time, evoking a brand of cricket West Indies will never replicate."

    It goes further than that. It's a brand of cricket that will never be replicated by any international side again. In these days of ludicrously crowded fixture schedules on docile pitches, we will never see a four man pace quartet of truly fast bowlers again. The natural fitness of someone like Holding amazes me. In the Oval Test of 1976, I think Wayne Daniel was injured during the first innings. Holding bowled 33 overs in the August heat, taking 8 for 92, never letting the pace drop. It wasn't gym manufactured fitness so beloved of today but raw natural athleticism just as the entire team demonstrated raw natural ability without the constant supervision of coaches, the use of video technology in order to modify technique, and other methods of improvement. To me, a lover of both cricket and music, watching that West Indies side invokes the same feelings I get watching old footage of bands at their peak, artistic expression on stage versus sporting expression on a cricket field. There's something so beautifully natural at work that makes them stand out.

    I genuinely mourn the days before professionalism took over in cricket. Watching Holding bowling at Brian Close in that 1976 series is like watching Formula 1 in the 1970's. There's a palpable danger there, a driver in a potentially life-ending car should he crash, a batsman with rudimentary protection facing a devastating pace attack. It's so rare that modern viewers see that in cricket. That's why a spell like that bowled by Mitchell Johnson in South Africa in the recent past stands out, a rare moment where a bowler is on top and genuinely scares the opposition rather than the bowler being ground down on a placid wicket, powerful bats, and shortened boundaries.

    Would the great Windies sides have beaten the Steve Waugh/Warne era Australians? Yes. For all of Warne's magic and McGrath's brilliance, four pacemen plus that batting line up would have come through. People know whistle when they see someone like Shaun Tait bowling quick. They'd probably evacuate their bowels in shock seeing a Roberts-Holding-Marshall-Garner combination.

    John: #45.

    Totally incorrect. Gatting did not have his jaw broken. He had his nose broken having chosen not to wear a protective facial grille at the front of his helmet. Observe the picture if you don't believe me:;page=3

    If you class that as physical intimidation, then do you wish to denounce Peter Lever for nearly killing Ewan Chatfield, Bob Willis for breaking Rick Mccosker's jaw, or maybe even James Anderson for knocking out Daniel Flynn's teeth?

    Most of the heavy short pitched stuff came in the 1980's. Helmets and greater protection had come along and perhaps the West Indian quicks felt justified in upping the bouncers to batsmen decked out in such equipment.

  • Comment number 52.

    I was proud to boo and heckle John Emburey at Old Trafford in the late eighties after he profited from South African misery. Too many of those who did so later enjoyed respectability, although I for one could never respect Messrs Croft, Kallicharran, Moseley, Graveney, Gooch, Gatting, Hughes or Hohns.

    I look forward to watching Colin Croft squirm as he tries to justify what he did. And I delighted in watching West Indies deprive the England of Larkins and Gooch of certain victory in 1989-90.

    Too many people like Matthew Maynard, Graham Dilley or Paul Jarvis owe their current financial security to having had their mortgages paid up by Apartheid two decades ago. And not all of us have forgotten that. And the likes of Richards, Holding Marshall were superior cricketers because they would not put a price on their dignity and their pride.

  • Comment number 53.

    @John #41....which 'Jarvis' do you contend was involved with instructing Harold 'The Daddy' Larwood on how to bowl...?

    Some of my friends think you must mean the old Yorkshire and England 'Paul Jarvis', others say it's more likely little known asteroid '3353 Jarvis', but my money's on King of Cool 'Jarvis Cocker'. Am I right?

    Honestly, Douglas Jardine would turn in his grave if he thought his place in that most tumultuous part of cricket's history had ever been forgotten.

  • Comment number 54.

    i came to live in Australia in 86 not caring or having any interest in cricket, but seen the WI played, boy did they change the attitude i had towards the game, great to watch,it was very good. those were the days men were men unlike today full of prima donnas, these days i cant be bother to watch it, only the highlights, and thats coming from someone whos country is full of football and nothing else. great game,played by exceptionalpeople, they went and played to win so good,miss those days,todays player bit whimpy to my like...

  • Comment number 55.

    I'm looking forward to seeing the film.

    Although it was at the end of the dominance I think Lara, Ambrose and Walsh deserve a mention - my memory from when Sky first started televising overseas tours is that they beat a pretty impressive Australian team almost single handedly. Passion - they had it.

    As for the bouncers, I remember TMS not liking them but perhaps that was in a spirit of fairness... More careers were ended with battered mental toughness than bones. Cricket is gladitorial and the West Indies were the kings.

  • Comment number 56.

    I'm really looking forward to seeing this film as it will take me back to my childhood: even if that involved England being ritually thrashed by a magnificent West Indies side.

    As a tribute we picked our all-time West Indies XI - sadly none of the current crop of players came even close.

    Our all-time West Indies XI to celebrate the release of 'Fire in Babylon'

  • Comment number 57.

    I grew up on WI domination of cricket and loved everything about the cavalier and entertaining way they played. How outrageous to label them thugs!
    People tend to forget just what a fantastic batsman Clive Lloyd was (remember his magnificent World Cup century) and just how dangerous he was pouncing in the covers, then later in the slips.

  • Comment number 58.

    I found it disturbing that one post commended the spectacle of dangerous play, likening the WI pace attack to a formula 1 event in which death/serious injury is just around the corner. In fairness, OB pointed out that some of the WI greats pitched the ball up. There seems to be an undercurrent that these pace tactics were born out racial tensions, feelings of social injustice, &c. As I understand it, Douglas Jardine had a deep-seated dislike for the Australians (he was an unapologetic xenophobe). So when he instructed HL to aim for the chest the spectacle of dangerous play may well have been born of sectarianism. How sad.

    I prefer an even contest between bat and ball. If a batsman cannot risk driving (because the ball's always at his chin) then the game has been cheapened. England started this, ostensibly to negate the Don's threat (tell that to Bill Woodfall).

    I don't think the WI pace greats were thugs at all. But I wouldn't want to see a return to that style of play. But, to speak as a child might, we started it. And not necessarily for pure cricketing reasons.

  • Comment number 59.

    Yes indeed!

    West Indies reigned supreme atop the cricket world with bat, ball and athleticism for almost three decades, give or take a few momentary lapses. Their bowlers made batsmen quiver, their batsmen made bowlers shiver.

    Gary Sobers was, arguably, the greatest cricketer of all time. Rohan Kanhai was a master blaster with the bat. Wes Hall engendered genuine fear in all batsmen in an era when no helmets were used. Clive Lloyds was probably the most ferocious, and hardest, hitter of the cricket ball.

    In that era, great commentators like John Arlott, Tony Cozier and Brian Johnston described the games with incomparable poetic majesty and literary beauty. You could be listening on the radio and felt like you were watching the action live; they were that good. John Arlott was the greatest of them all. It was an exciting time to go to the stadium to watch cricket at its ultimate best.

    In 1986, I was sitting in the stands at the Kensington Oval, Barbados when Michael Holding, like a pouncing lion, was running, from only a short distance from the northern sightscreen, instilling fear in England's batsmen. In tandem was Patrick Patterson thundering in from the southern end, equally fearsomely.

    They made batsmen wince, sniffing the leather. With the bat, the great all-rounder Botham had no answer to that kind of pace, jumping around the crease, tremulously; so did most of his teammates. WI won that 5/0.

    The game has changed immensely since then. The proliferation of coloured clothing and the shorter formats have unquestionably eroded the majesty and mystique of the great game. The introduction of Twenty/20, in my view, was a huge mistake. Many batsmen have difficulty adjusting to the discipline of Test cricket after they have been inured to slogging the ball for a few overs or a few minutes.

    One can hope that cricket, lovely cricket, will one day recapture its past glory and that the boys from the islands of the West Indies will lead the charge to entertain, to excite, to dazzle like they did so cavalierly, so incomparably for so many years!

  • Comment number 60.

    R-Brooker (58):

    I think you'll find that was my post that you find disturbing. Yes, I do commend to a degree the spectacle of dangerous play. The Youtube footage of a young Ian Bishop bowling to Robin Smith is dangerous play, a genuinely quick paceman bowling to a hard as nails batsman. Watching Lillee and Thompson batter England was dangerous play but totally thrilling, just as seeing Brian Close fend off the West Indies is thrilling. My comparison to Formula 1 isn't because I wish to return to an era where F1 drivers died on a regular basis but that over-stringent safety measures can dull a sport's excitement. Take the rules on restricted bouncers for instance, a very poor rule. Dangerous play is a good thing. If it spills over into something worse then the umpires have to be strong, just as rugby referees are when it comes to finding the balance between allowing a physical game to continue and where to stop and bring people up for going over the line. Rugby at its peak is a dangerous game. Just ask Thom Evans.

    "I prefer an even contest between bat and ball. If a batsman cannot risk driving (because the ball's always at his chin) then the game has been cheapened."

    What happens if a batsman is facing a top quality outswing bowler on a green wicket in humid conditions and that batsman can't risk driving? Is the game cheapened then? I don't recall Allan Donald giving Atherton much to drive in that memorable spell in the past in England. To suggest the game was cheapened by that spell of bowling is simply daft. Frankly in the modern game many batsmen get far too much to drive and are then found out when they do get some short stuff (mentioning no younger members of the Indian top order, oh no sir, not them indeed).

  • Comment number 61.

    Apparently the digitally remastered cricket footage in this film is stunning.

    I miss these great cricketers terribly, I fear we will never see their like again. Not only did they grace the world stage, but every English country cricket side had a superstar West Indian or two in their line-up.

    As an opening batsman I modelled myself totally on the "pyrotechnics" of Gordon Greenidge, including the 'limp' whenever he passed his half-century. Viv of course was the 'main man', you could include Clive Lloyd, Desmond Haynes, Lawrence Rowe and later Ritchie Richardson as all-time greats from this era.

    You may also note how much more 'interesting' test cricket was back then. The surfaces tended to have a bit of 'juice' in them, every batsman seemed to have his own personal style and technique.

  • Comment number 62.

    My (white South African) husband and I (white British) spent our 1981 honeymoon in Antigua. The first person he saw in the hotel was a giant called Joel Garner. Who's Joel Garner? I asked my mesmerised new husband. He didn't answer - just stared. He spent the next week talking about cricket to every Antiguan we met. It didn't matter that my husband was South African. Cricket was the universal language of the West Indies and they understood each other.

  • Comment number 63.

    Oliver, I watched this... its rubbish.

    Much prefer the IPL... like a billion others.

    Go figure!

  • Comment number 64.

    soulcurry - you have hit the nail on its head with this:

    "You only add an extension to how insecure and obsessed people in this country feel about IPL..."

    Probably it's a case of sour grapes !!

    Maybe if some english players figure in the IPL things might change, but then the question is which team would want/buy them?!

  • Comment number 65.

    Sounds like a good film.I have been supporting West Indies since the days of Sobers and Kanhai despite living in rural England. Hey we've won a test ! Light at the end of the tunnel?

  • Comment number 66.

    Alas. cricket is in serious trouble! The reasons are before us!

    The IPL should be abolished, in my view, and the sooner the better! It does not augur well for the Game’s future!

    It is the embodiment of the bastardization of the formerly genteel and gentlemanly sport. The lure of money has made some players abandon national pride for personal riches.

    Cricket is undergoing a kind of metamorphosis which will ultimately lead to its demise. Its tradition is being alarmingly eroded in an unprecedented way.

    Gone are the days when you could drive down the countryside and see men and boys play the great game it elegant whites. Today, With the infiltration of coloured clothing, one may have to take a second look to confirm that it is cricket.

    It is time to end T/20 cricket once and for all; it will spell the end of the sport as we knew it. It is also time to reclaim the game’s tradition, heritage and spirit.

    Cricket is historically played in white clothing and a red ball. Barring rear circumstances, you do not have to change the red ball after a number of overs have been bowled as they now do with the white ball.

    At one time the umpire’s decision was final. Now with the DRS, it isn’t necessarily so! This, too, needs to end if cricket is to save itself from a certain death!

  • Comment number 67.

    When the speed kings were in full flow cricket used to be a different ball game. I remember Roberts, Holding, Marshall, Garner, Patterson, Walsh, Baptiste and Bishop. It is often said incoming and outgoing batsmen from the opposite camps had a test series of nightmares.

    Dr. Cajetan Coelho

  • Comment number 68.

    A little sad on my part perhaps, there is some tremendous archival cricket footage on youtube.

    Richie Richardson 182 vs Australia (Guyana) 1991

    [Unsuitable/Broken URL removed by Moderator]

    Gordon Greenidge 226 vs Australia (Barbados) 1991

    [Unsuitable/Broken URL removed by Moderator]


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