Indies ruled the world
|By Oliver Brett
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 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. –
predictions for Wimbledon
Wimbledon Championships look set to be one of the
most fiercely competitive tournaments for years.
The men’s game is blessed with the most gifted bunch
of players for a generation with Rafael Nadal, Roger
Federer, Novak Djokovic and home favourite Andy
Murray fighting it out at the top of the rankings.
In the women’s event, the field is wide open and a
host of players have high hopes of victory given
that the Williams’ sisters are coming into the
tournament short of match practice.
Here a selection of legendary players, commentators
and experts tell BBC Sport who they think is set for
glory in SW19 this year.
SUE BARKER, BBC Sport presenter
You could stick a pin in any of the top four but
Rafael Nadal is the defending champion and is
hitting the ball so well at the moment. He is such a
formidable match player and winning the French Open
will have really boosted his confidence.
I am backing Maria Sharapova as she is the one
person who is not afraid of the Williams sisters.
Time might have beaten Venus and Serena in their
battle to be fully fit but if Serena makes it into
the second week I might have to change my choice of
JOHN MCENROE, three-time Wimbledon winner
You can make an argument for any one of the world’s
top four, but Roger Federer’s play at the French
Open inspired me to choose him. His game is suited
to this surface and his willingness to take more
chances on it will pay off. It’s hard to pick from
anyone outside one of the world’s top four. This is
a darn good time for the men’s game.
BJORN BORG, five-time Wimbledon winner
Murray, Djokovic, Nadal and Federer ; These four
guys right now all playing great tennis. We can
expect a special Wimbledon that has not happened for
a few years. It is tough because I like all four
guys and cannot see anyone win except for (one of)
these four. If you say ‘pick someone,’ I pick Roger
Federer because he played so well on the clay in
Paris and now he is coming to his favourite surface
In the women’s singles I have to go with Maria
Sharapova. She played very well on the clay which is
not her favourite surface.
TIM HENMAN, four-time Wimbledon semi-finalist
Roger Federer for me. It was the best I had seen him
play at Roland Garros and if he brings that clay
form to grass he has a good a chance as anyone.
Serena Williams has a superb grass court pedigree
and if she survives her first couple of rounds she
will go from strength-to-strength.
LINDSAY DAVENPORT, 1999 Wimbledon champion
I fancy Roger Federer to claim his seventh title
here. His game really came back together on his
least favourite surface in Paris and he looks back
Maria Sharapova has won Wimbledon before and she
really impressed at the French Open despite her not
being a fan of clay.
ANDREW CASTLE, BBC tennis commentator
It makes me laugh that people don’t have Rafael
Nadal as favourite. The last time he lost here was
in 2007. I saw him in practice earlier in the week
and it was ridiculous how well he was hitting the
Every time Serena Williams walks on court she is
already three love up. If the enthusiasm is there
that will certainly make up for her lack of fitness.
VIRGINIA WADE, 1977 Wimbledon champion
If Rafael Nadal finds his way through a tough half
of the draw I expect him to retain his title. He is
such a winner.
Maria Sharapova is in fantastic form and has the
experience of winning Wimbledon before.
GREG RUSEDSKI, former world number four
The top four seeds will make the semis but I’m going
with Rafael Nadal. He last lost at Wimbledon four
years ago and is the mentally strongest player on
the planet. He impressed me at Queen’s and his coach
said that this has been his best ever transition
from clay to grass.
The women’s is wide open, the pundits’ tip this year
seems to be Sharapova but it would surprise no one
if Serena Williams wins, but the question is, is she
TRACY AUSTIN, two-time US Open winner
Roger Federer played so well in Paris and he is now
on a surface favourable to his game so I’m picking
him. It’s a really tough ask to pick one from the
top four as we are so lucky at the moment to have
four players playing at the top of their game.
There are a few question marks over who is going to
be the women’s champion this year and I think it
will be a lot easier after the first week to get an
impression. Venus and Serena are more vulnerable in
the first week as they regain their fitness and
match practice. I make Maria Sharapova a slim
favourite. She played really well against Serena
last year and she is playing 50% better than that
now and loves this surface.
SAM SMITH, former WTA player
I think Roger Federer will win as he is hitting his
serve and forehand unbelievably well at the moment.
Petra Kvitova is a fantastic grass court player and
I think she is the best server in the women’s game.
She reached the semis here last year and I think she
could go one step further this year.
JO DURIE, former Great Britain number one
I think Roger Federer will win as he seems the most
determined to win and show he is not a spent force.
I cannot pick a winner from the women’s at all, it
is so difficult. Maria Sharapova is in great form,
but the Williams sisters are so tough to beat. I
really can’t pick a winner but I would lean towards
Serena Williams as she is such a ferocious
competitor. – [BBC]
against Sri Lanka
England takes a lot
England’s three-Test series against Sri Lanka may
have been blighted by rain but there were plenty of
positives for Andrew Strauss’s men, as well as one
or two causes for concern ahead of the visit of
top-ranked India later in the summer.
Andrew Strauss had a poor series against the Sri
Lankans but he has time to get some form. He will
have a bit of a break and then get out there and get
He will be facing a left-arm seamer of high quality
in Zaheer Khan and I’m sure he will be practising
hard in the nets and with bowling machines to
improve his technique against that type of bowling.
There’s no crisis with Strauss but it’s never a
healthy situation for a team to be in when your
captain is struggling for runs. The whole team
operates much better when the captain is in form.
THE HISTORY BOYS
Alastair Cook goes from strength to strength and it
is fitting that he will go into the India series on
the verge of a record-equalling seventh consecutive
The transformation in his form is all down to
footwork. When he comes down the pitch at the ball
with his right foot coming forward he is a wonderful
player. When he sticks that foot across the stumps,
as he was doing this time last year, he is all over
He recognised that he could have been more positive
than he was at Lord’s and you saw that at the Rose
Bowl when he played forcefully and got out to a shot
that he wouldn’t normally have played. To get to
number one, the batsmen are going to have to be able
to free themselves up.
Meanwhile, Ian Bell is just made for number five. He
plays at a lovely speed and has batsmen around him
now. Eoin Morgan is slightly more unconventional so
he can operate well with the tail-enders, whereas
Bell can just go in at number five and bat.
Aesthetically, he is the prettiest player England
has had for a long time. I always loved Michael
Vaughan’s cover drive but I think Bell’s is every
bit as good.
As a person he is much more comfortable with
himself. He used to fret and worry, but he is much
more relaxed now. He is married now, and when you
get some stability in your life, it doesn’t matter
what you do, you just do it better, and in his case
he is batting very well.
DISPELLING THE DOUBTERS
It was a big series for Kevin Pietersen and he got
two good scores. But what was most important was the
way that he played in that 85 at the Rose Bowl. It
is a shame that he got out before his century, but
he will feel much more confident about things and
people will leave him alone a bit now.
He is never going to be everyone’s cup of tea but I
don’t think we need to worry too much about his
relationship with Coach Andy Flower. I don’t think
there was quite the ill-feeling surrounding
Pietersen’s departure from the World Cup that we
were led to believe.
Morgan has entirely justified the decision to select
him ahead of Ravi Bopara, and he worked hard to fill
Paul Collingwood’s shoes in the field. I like the
way he played at the Rose Bowl - it was a Morgan
Test innings rather than a Morgan one-day innings.
It was very clinical and he just looks a really good
I remember talking to some of the Irish players
about him and they were amazed that anyone had any
doubts about whether he could make the step up to
Test cricket. I think we have now seen a couple of
examples of why he is good enough.
PRESSURE ON BROAD
I think Stuart Broad Has probably done just about
enough to keep his place, but he does need to get
some wickets under his belt.
He will play in the Twenty20 game and the one-dayers
but I would also love to see him get a county game
in before the first Test.
He looked transformed when he got the Mahela
Jayawardene wicket on Sunday evening but then he
didn’t bowl very well again on Monday.
He needs to go out and get a five-wicket haul in
county cricket and just relax a bit, because if he
doesn’t there are some serious contenders queuing up
to take his place, with Graham Onions and Tim
Bresnan chief among them.
NEW BALL ATTACK
Chris Tremlett and James Anderson provide such good
variety and are emerging as one of the best new ball
Tremlett is someone who no batsman in the world
would enjoy facing and he has already softened up
India last time they were here. They know all about
him and they won’t relish facing him again.
James Anderson just needs that little bit of breeze
to swing the ball - they are an ideal opening
England still misses having a fifth bowler. They can
chuck the ball to Jonathan Trott all they like but
he is a sixth bowler at best. They do miss
Collingwood just to come in and add a little spell
of cutters or seamers.
The selectors seem absolutely fixated on playing
four bowlers, but if India rattles up a lot of runs
in that first Test, they will be under pressure to
look at that strategy.
To get to number one you must be positive and
flexible, and until England do both of those things
they will remain short of that ultimate goal. –