These days with the likes of global warming, terrorism, social oppression and the small matter of the economic collapse preoccupying documentary maker’s minds, it’s very rare we are presented with a heat-felt documentry documenting a triumphant and historic time in sporting history.
These days with the likes of global warming,
terrorism, social oppression and the small matter of the economic collapse
preoccupying documentary maker’s minds, it’s very rare we are presented with a
heat-felt documentry documenting a triumphant and historic time in sporting
history. Therefore, it was refreshing to hear Director Stevan Riley had made a documentary
on a successful sporting faction and the pride it brought to a nation during a
changing and sometime shaky period of history.
Fire in Babylon – made by the producers of the
Oscar winning Last King of Scotland – is that documentary. In it Riley charts
the prominence and success of the West Indian cricket team from the mid-1970s
to the early 90s. It was a somewhat brutal time in the sport’s history, where
badly bruised (and sometimes unconscious) batsmen were the norm and it was
viewed as a gentrified white man’s game peppered with prejudices and racism.
Keen to be taken seriously and shed themselves of the ‘Calypso cricketers’
image, bestowed to them by the English press, the West Indies team, headed by
Clive Lloyd and later Vivian Richards,
went on the war path to prove their worth on the cricket pitch.
With the help of reggae music – also an
evolving scene at the time – vintage footage and first-hand accounts by the
cricketers themselves (Richards, Michael Holding, Colin Croft, Greenidge and
other greats) Riley delivers a
well thought out – although one sided – account of prominent games during the
period that led to the West Indies 15 year unbeaten record from February/ March 1980 to
These include the West Indies 1975
defeat to Australia and notorious bowlers Geoff Thomson and Dennis Lillee – the turning point for the team – to beating India
in 1976 with the tourists surrendering one Test in protest at the short-pitched
tactics. Perhaps the most notorious game
being a win again England – their former colonisers – later that year, sweetened by then captain, South
African Tony Greig’s, antagonising boast that England would ‘make them grovel’.
for some reason Riley does leave out some prestigious games, such as the 1975
World Cup win which preceded the tour of Australia, which could easily have
been slotted into the short running time.
Nevertheless, Riley also explores the context
of the time and how it is intrinsically linked to the cricket the West Indies
team were playing. Not only were they spurned on by prejudices they
encountered, but after recently being handed independence, the West Indies’
continued success unified its separate islands and ignited a firmer sense of
identity and pride for its people. This was also the case for West Indians who
had immigrated to a hostile England. But more than this, during a time of
apartheid in South Africa a black team dominating a white sport was globally
Riley succeeds in delving into a significant
period of time both socially and in sports history, and in doing so – and doing
so well – he opens his documentary up to an audience wider than just cricket
fans. And with his compact and reggae rich approach to the documentary he also
manages to capture the spirit of the West Indian cricketers making it very much