It's a great time for cricket junkies. Besides plenty of on-field action, there are controversial books and other literary works available, courtesy the practitioners of the game. Then, there are cricket films pioneered by the Englishmen, but perfected in my opinion, by the Australians (who are now talking about a television mini-series called ‘Howzat! Kerry Packer’s War’).
However, Fire in Babylon does not emerge from Down Under. Directed by Stevan Riley, who followed West Indies’ tours to England, the documentary will be released to Indian audiences on September 21. It is, according to its official website, “the breathtaking story of how the West Indies triumphed over its colonial masters through the achievements of one of the most gifted teams in sporting history.”
Michael Holding, the great West Indian fast bowler-turned-television commentator, is convinced the Indians will lap up the documentary in which he features prominently. Holding stressed that it was music apart from cricket which gave the Caribbean islands recognition. “A few people might have heard about the West Indies, but when our cricketers and musicians started making headlines, that is when we really got recognised. People could then say, ‘hey, that region is producing good stuff.’ ”
The documentary brings to light how the West Indies became a world-beating force after the shellacking in Australia 1975-76. The English summer of 1976 which came before the Packer circus, was significant to the West Indies cricketers and their countrymen who lived in England. Tony Greig, the England captain, vowed to make Clive Lloyd’s men ‘grovel’, a term that didn’t go down well with the tourists. An emphatic series win proved how wrong Greig was.
England has a big West Indian population and Holding summed up their erstwhile plight: “They felt they were more accommodated than wanted.”
Holding, who claimed 14 wickets in the final Test at the Oval 36 Augusts ago, explained what that series win meant to West Indians in England: “They felt, ‘if these people can come here and beat England on the cricket field, we should be able to get equal opportunity off the cricket field.’ That’s what it did for them.”
West Indies’ revival wouldn’t have come about had it not been for Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket (WSC) which stormed cricket in 1977-78, reckoned Holding. “Outstanding players were not something new to West Indies cricket. But WSC bound us together. It helped us to become a serious machine.”
Indeed, Holding has not forgotten how Packer read out the riot act in the dressing room after West Indies lost a game which they should have won had they played more responsibly. Pace bowler Andy Roberts in the documentary says the Australian business tycoon threatened to send the West Indies back home if they couldn’t get their act together. “Definitely, definitely,” said Holding when asked whether he remembered Packer’s tongue-lashing that night. He continued: “He wasn’t pleased at all. If the West Indies team weren’t successful playing good cricket that would be the end of it. It (WSC) wouldn’t have worked. It was important for him that the West Indies performed and the cricket had to be good.” It was. But then, Fire in Babylon is not only about West Indies’ cricketing dominance during the 1970s and 1980s. It’s a triumph of much more.