Despite appearing to be a group of creative maverick types, we at 51allout are actually big fans of routine. We like knowing exactly what we should be doing on any given day. On Mondays we always talk about Amjad Khan’s solitary test appearance. On Tuesdays we have a team meeting and try and plan out the articles for the rest of the week. And on Wednesdays we make sweet weekly love.
But the most important day for this article is Thursday, because Thursday night at the 51allout remand centre is movie night. This week, as a reward for good behaviour (no shoplifting for three weeks!) we were allowed to watch Fire In Babylon, the story of the West Indies cricket team from the mid 70’s onwards.
We won’t beat about the bush – we thoroughly enjoyed this film. It’s a genuinely fascinating piece. For a film about cricket, there’s actually very little detail, with series scorelines being the limit. Instead, it’s a story about cricket’s place within the world, and how a nation of tiny islands was able to not only stand up to the might of England, Australia and India, but also bully their way to the top and then stay there for around fifteen years, a lifetime in sport.
It’s easy to look back on series such as the famous ‘blackwash’ in terms of scorecards and think you know what happened. What this film does is show everything in its context. For those too young to have seen it as it happened, it’s genuinely illuminating.
It’s easy to forget how much cricket has changed since those days. There’s no end of footage of vicious short-pitched bowling at batsmen sans helmets, not all of which is successfully ducked or dodged. And there’s absolutely no remorse from anybody. And nor should there be. It’s hard not to enjoy Tony Greig’s ‘make them grovel’ speech, followed by the man himself suffering under a barrage of bouncers.
It certainly helps that almost everyone interviewed has a fascinating story to tell. We could listen to Michael Holding talk all day but he’s just one of several fascinating interviewees. We particularly enjoyed Bunny Wailer (and his dog) and Andy Roberts, a man of very few words but all of them amusing. Viv Richards emerges at the centre of the story and his bits are more serious, and slightly less fun, as a result.
A few things that we felt were missed opportunities: the ending is a little abrupt – the film could easily have sustained another fifteen minutes – and there’s a distinct lack of contributions from the next generation of great West Indian players. We’d liked to have heard from the likes of Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh about how they saw the team they were growing up into. But these are just small issues. Overall, if you care enough about cricket to read this review then you should seek this film out.
Weekend At Bernie’s 2, good behaviour permitting.