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.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
The 67P/CG comet as seen from the Philae lander
scienceThe most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Ian McKellen as Gandalf in The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Koenig, creator of popular podcast Serial, which is to be broadcast by the BBC
tvReview: The secret to the programme's success is that it allows its audience to play detective
Ruby Wax has previously written about her mental health problems in her book Sane New World
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

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas