Rajan's Wrong 'Un: 'Fire In Babylon' shines revealing light on rise and fall of West Indies

Cricket became, under Clive Lloyd's tutelage, an opportunity for black emancipation

There comes a point in the career of every cricketing contrarian when he realises his instinctive scepticism is futile. In my case, I find that time keeps coming. Years ago I had presumed, on being repeatedly told that C L R James' Beyond A Boundary was the finest sports book ever written, that it was the opposite; in fact, James' erudite tale probably warrants that label. Joseph O'Neill's Netherland was alleged to contain as elegant a description of a field of play as has yet been rendered in English prose, so I presumed that suggestion was bunkum; in fact, the novelist captured something poetic about the game that may not be surpassed.

And so on reading acres of newsprint lauding Fire In Babylon, and being told this was not only the "perfect gift for Father's Day" but that ever-ready thing, "the summer's feel-good movie", I was made an instant doubter. I should not have been. The promotional boast that this is "one of the greatest sports movies of all time" is deserved.

The film to which it has most been compared is Leon Gast's seminal When We Were Kings, because, like that Oscar-winner, it sees sport as a synonym for vast historical forces. Fire In Babylon may capture better than any other film the fact that, as James perceived, the history of cricket is none other than a sequence of imperial inversions, in which the English are defeated by those whom they once ruled. This process reached an apogee with the domination, for 15 years, of cricketers from the Caribbean.

In the mid to late 1960s, the West Indies – a bunch of separate nations who play no other sport together – were known for their calypso cricket. That may sound affectionate and upbeat, but in fact referred to their lackadaisical approach to professional matters. No shortage of headlines referred to the "batting collapsos of the calypso kings". And then Clive Lloyd showed up.

Lloyd completely changed the approach of the Caribbean to cricket. It became, under his tutelage, an opportunity for black emancipation, a glorious metaphor for the historic struggle of slave against master, and the final, inevitable triumph of the former. Sporting greats such as Viv Richards were seen as comrades of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X.

It helped that they had talented and terrifying players, many of whom – Joel Garner, Michael Holding, Richards, Andy Roberts, Colin Croft – are interviewed at length. The film brilliantly allows these history-makers to describe the narrative of which they are the heroes. Of course, seen from today's perspective, it is also dripping in nostalgia. This weekend India attained an unassailable 3-0 lead in their series against the West Indies. Rohit Sharma's undefeated 86 helped them chase down 226 from 92 for 6. The Sir Vivian Richards Stadium in Antigua was almost empty. The fire in Babylon was now a damp squib. How did we get here?

It is illuminating that, after watching the film, Chris Gayle reportedly told Richards he had no idea what his predecessors went through. Gayle, Dwayne Bravo and Kieron Pollard all play in the Indian Premier League; for them, money, not black emancipation, is a priority. Baseball and basketball have lured youngsters away from leather and willow, and Usain Bolt might yet convert a potentially great cricketer into a sprinter.

But never ignore the significance of plain good luck. If you fly over, say, Barbados, it is hard to believe this tiny island could produce, in the same era, cricketers as good as Garner, Marshall, Greenidge, Haynes, Daniel, Clarke, and so on. And yet it did. The sadness is not that the fire in Babylon burns no more; it is that it may be beyond the capacity of mere cricketers to reignite it.

Jacqueline Bisset has claimed that young women today are obsessed with being 'hot', rather than 'charming', 'romantic' or 'beautiful'
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham
booksLena Dunham's memoirs - written at the age of 28 - are honest to the point of making you squirm
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
tvDownton Abbey review: It's six months since we last caught up with the Crawley clan
Frank Lampard and his non-celebration
premier leagueManchester City vs Chelsea match report from the Etihad Stadium
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
techNew app offers 'PG alternative' to dating services like Tinder
Greg Dyke insists he will not resign as Football Association chairman after receiving a watch worth more than £16,000 but has called for an end to the culture of gifts being given to football officials
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden sings his heart out in his second audition
tvX Factor: How did the Jakes - and Charlie Martinez - fare?
premier league
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave crime series
Mario Balotelli celebrates his first Liverpool goal
premier leagueLiverpool striker expressed his opinion about the 5-3 thriller with Leicester - then this happened
Britain's shadow chancellor Ed Balls (L) challenges reporter Rob Merrick for the ball during the Labour Party versus the media soccer match,
peopleReporter left bleeding after tackle from shadow Chancellor in annual political football match
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says
tvSpoiler warning: Star of George RR Martin's hit series says viewers have 'not seen the last' of him/her
Plenty to ponder: Amir Khan has had repeated problems with US immigration because of his Muslim faith and now American television may shun him
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments