Has the fire gone out of West Indies cricket?

While on my holidays back home in the UK I was lucky enough to catch a new documentary called Fire in Babylon. It tells the story of the all conquering West Indies cricket team of the 1970's and 1980's.

    While on my holidays back home in the UK I was lucky enough to catch a new documentary called Fire in Babylon.

    It tells the story of the all-conquering West Indies cricket team of the 1970s and 1980s, who not only thrashed any team unlucky enough to play them, but were a great source of pride to those from the Afro-Carribbean community, both back home and in places like England.

    The film had a special resonance for me as many of the greats that played in this side, Viv Richards, Malcolm Marshall, Michael Holding and Clive Lloyd, were the names I grew up with as a cricket-obsessed youth in the 1980s.

    I grew up with the notion that the West Indies were simply the best, not only that but also probably the best there had ever been.

    They set the benchmark when it came to fitness, professionalism, ruthlessness - and of course attacking batting and fast bowing, very fast bowling.

    Admittedly, this was the era before the speed gun so I don't have the statistical evidence, but to a 13-year-old they looked quick. They also looked so cool to me that when I set out on my own fast bowling career (opening bowler for Harrow Town 3rd XI 1987-1992) my action went through several changes as I attempted to copy the actions of the great West Indies of the 1980s, as you can see below.

    1987-88 tried to copy the action of Joel Garner.
    1988-89 switched to Malcolm Marshall.
    1989-90 Michael Holding.

    (I eventually settled on copying my hero Wasim Akram because he was a lefty like me, but that's another blog).

    The point is, for a generation of young cricket fans around the world, me included, the West Indies were their second favourite team after their own country.

    I've spoken to Australians who say they still have a soft spot for the Windies after watching Clive Lloyd's team batter their boys for two decades starting with World Series Cricket in 1977. Ask Sachin Tendulkar who is hero was....it wasn't Gavaskar or Kapil, it was King Viv.

    Rise of Black Pride

    But arguably their greatest legacy was how they became a symbol of black pride in the 1970s and a truly unifying force in the Carribbean. The 70s were a tumultuous decade, especially in islands like Jamaica where political violence almost spilled over into outright civil war.

    Clive Lloyd somehow brought together players from all these different countries under the one banner and moulded them into a great team. It showed the people that they could work and achieve success together no matter which island they came from.

    As well as inspiring the masses back home the Windies were heroes in England as well.  When the team toured in 1976 the fifth and final Test at the Oval became a virtual home match as the Afro-Carribbean community in south London descended en masse to the ground to watch Holding, Richards and the rest blow the hosts away to win by 231 runs and take the series 3-0.

    This was a period when many in that community felt marginalised. Frustration would explode with the Brixton riots just five years later, but when the West Indies were in town it was a time when you could feel proud watching your team humiliate the old colonial masters.

    West Indies Cricket - The Future

    But what really made the documentary so affecting is knowing how far the team have fallen since those heady days. The West Indies are currently hosting the World Champions, India.

    These days the side languish in seventh in the Test rankings with only New Zealand and Bangladesh below them.  When the film had its premiere in the Jamaican capital Kingston, current star Chris Gayle admitted he was largely unaware what the great West Indian team went through.

    There is talk the film could be shown to schoolchildren in countries like Jamaica as part of the school syllabus, the hope being that it could inspire a brand new generation that could one day put the West Indies cricket team back on top of the world.


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