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Location: the valley, California, United States

Bay Area, Strategy Manager, Haas- U. C. Berkeley, Marathons

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Fire in Babylon - a review

I liked 'Fire in Babylon', the documentary on the great West Indian cricket team of the 1980s. It seems to have been made for an audience that comprises of cricket lovers from generations that did not get to see that team first hand. My generation developed an appreciation of the struggles of WI cricketers during the pre 1960 era from C. L. R. James' 'Beyond a boundary'. In that work, he spoke about the intersection of colonialism, racism and marxism and how the understanding of the West Indian experience was necessary to develop an appreciation of WI cricket. In fact, the first words of the book were, "What do they know of cricket who only cricket know?" affirming that events outside the cricket field affected what happened inside in equal measure. 'Fire in Babylon' does an adequate job of book-ending that work by showcasing how the succeeding generation of cricketers took it to the next level.

While Constantine and Worrell were influenced by the Calypso generation, Llyod's cricketers were deeply rooted in the rebellious tradition of reggae, and the socialist/marxist movements of that era. While the documentary does not cover it, the countries that comprise the West Indies had been granted independence and they chose to go in different political directions. Jamaica, was an on again, off again Socialist nation with a white man Michael Manley leading it for
many years. T&T and Guyana, countries with substantial Indian populations went somewhat the same way. But countries like Grenada got violent revolutions. By most appraisals the economic policies of these countries were disastrous and WI cricket stepped in to not only unify a fragmented country, but also provide pride in...something...

And this is where the documentary gets problematic. It covers the macho pride of the cricket team as reflected by the confidence provided by their fast bowlers. Most of the cricketers spoke about black pride and the mandatory references to Rastafarianism were made. The documentary reinforces how these players were heavily guided by black power, but leaves out the inconvenient fact that the cricketers of Indian origin felt alienated in the new atmosphere. Kallicharan, Jumadeen, Bacchus, Shivnarine et al were effectively sidelined during that era.
The film makers should have conferred with Kallicharan who had decided to stay loyal to WI cricket by not joining Packer. He captained the official team and was effectively shunned when the rebels got back. This was what prompted him to go to South Africa. A fall from grace for a person who had effectively won them the '75 world cup through his batting.

Secondly, the footage is inconsistent. A reference to the 77 Packer supertest is shown with footage of a photo shoot of the 1981 tripartite series (Eng, WI in Aus). Gavaskar is showing walking off in Melbourne 1981 when the speakers are talking about the infamous '76 Jamaican test. Plus, there was no introduction to that test. It followed a humiliating defeat at the hands of India. Set a target of 400+, India scored 406-4 in Port of Spain to win. The WI team had three spinners in that test. Llyod decided once and for all that he would never rely on spinners again.

But that's nitpicking. The documentary was good for a layman to understand the astounding talent that the turbulent times created. And if not for anything, the film redeemed itself by showing footage of two incredible feats; Dujon flying to what would effectively be third leg slip to catch a nick, and Viv stepping on his front foot to sweep-pull a short ball from a paceman.

So I give it a 3 star rating (out of 4).

(c) Arun Simha

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