DVD review: Fire In Babylon


The documentary deserves credit for chronicling the political maelstrom of the times, as this West Indian team fought for their corner and for the wider community through their magnificent achievements, writes Tim Ellis.

Like the current batch of talented but flawed characters, there was a time when West Indian cricket was viewed upon with some degree of suspicion.

Although their sides contained greats like Sir Garfield Sobers and Roy Fredericks, the teams before the late 1970s didn't tend to deal in many victories. They were known as great entertainers or "calypso cricketers" as Michael Holding refers to them in this documentary.

Fire in Babylon plots the path to the West Indian greatness of the late 70s to mid-80s within a social and political context and makes it relatively watchable bar Bunny Wailer and some self-indulgent reggae sources.

The catalyst for cricketing success was what Holding referred to as a "perfect storm" of events that came together at the same time and moved a seemingly disparate band of characters along with it. Such is the inter-island rivalry that has existed in the Caribbean, perhaps the potent mix of athletic fast bowlers and intimidating batsmen might just be a moment in time that is never replicated.

For that, the big friendly giant of a captain, Clive Lloyd, must take an enormous amount of credit. In a film that is full of talk about defeating colonial masters and fighting for equal rights, Lloyd says his motivation was to leave the past and build a team that could show the youth how success was possible. They are the most effective words spoken.

Certainly, these were a band of brothers who wanted a damn sight more respect on and off the pitch. Listening to Gordon Greenidge's articulate and upbeat tones is slightly more warming than hearing Colin Croft refer to people getting killed in jobs as an occupational hazard. Croft is perhaps the only contributor who appears to have no compunction about anything, not even the rebel South African tour during the Apartheid reign that spelt the death knell to his international career.

More bruising and character forming for the West Indian team was the learning experience of the Australian tour in 1975. Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson terrorised their new breed of cricketers while the crowd dealt in the basest form of racial sledging. It was this 5-1 hammering that inspired Lloyd to find his own pack of fast bowlers to fight fire with fire. The West Indians returned to Australia four years later, a professional and competitive force and made the hosts "cry" – something that Sir Viv Richards found highly amusing.

Richards insists that the Caribbean team's chin music was only fighting aggression with aggression and not intended to hurt. It is certainly a chilling experience watching Brian Close dodge heavy artillery or Robin Smith jerk his head back as if it has been disconnected. The footage needs no commentary or voiceover to make it dramatic. Holding insists the authorities should not have neutered such hostility and, given that we play with a hard red ball, he has a point.

Fire in Babylon deserves credit for chronicling the political maelstrom of the times, as this West Indian team fought for their corner and for the wider community through their magnificent achievements. Richards may be ever so slightly emotive about his distant brothers' past but when the then England captain Tony Greig aimed to make them "grovel" in 1976, what better motivation to show the white supremacy where to go.

It's just that Lloyd's attitude and words are far more healing.

<B>Tim Ellis</B>