Babylon Definition : Babylon From a Rastafarian perspective, Babylon is the historically white-European colonial and imperialist power structure which has oppressed Blacks and other people of color.
Imagine a cricket ball being hurled at you at serious pace, not to get you out and the only intention is to intimidate and hurt.This with no helmets and protective gear. The very thought of facing Andy Roberts, Michael Holding,Joel Garner, Colin Croft and Malcolm Marshall is enough to send shivers down the spine and if it was under these circumstances it’s going to cause not only fear but severe pain too. Added to that when it is a case of just black and white it’s even more scary. There was no gray here. Just black and white.
When the players have had enough of these fast men and are licking their wounds, there is Sir Viv Richards, Gordon Greenidge, Desmond Haynes and Clive Lloyd who send you running to all parts of the ground with their blistering stroke play. In the film, Greenidge would say” We could not take it out on a fellow human being, but we could do that on the 5.5 ounce cherry”, That was the intensity and that is the story behind Fire in Babylon with some theatrics added. The emergence and triumph of a team that was battered,bruised,humiliated on and off the field before dominating a sport like no other for 15 consecutive years.
The story starts with the 1975 Australia-West Indies Test series in Australia, The crowd was baying for blood and the shouts of “Lillee !! Kill” were on the rise. Remember all this in a politically and racially charged era where apartheid was very much in existence and the Caribbean islands had just got independence from their colonial masters.This team was being portrayed as the collective representatives of blacks all over the world. The Aussie duo of Jeff Thomson and Dennis Lille inflict some serious pain and body blows to the West Indians and beat them 5-1 in the Tests. This loss coupled with the humiliation and abuse from the Australian crowd fiercely motivates this group of men and they vow never to be meted out this treatment again. Clive Lloyd, portrayed as a supreme leader of men finds four fast bowlers to match the fire and deadly effectiveness of Lillee and Thomson and dishes it back at every team that comes their way for the next 15 years. The hunted had indeed turned the hunter, rather a dangerous predator.
The documentary is filled with comments from the players themselves who were very much part of the action, the journalists of that era, a few groundsmen and calypso artists and rastafarians from the Caribbean which adds to the drama and the theater. After the 1975 Australian tour the Indians bear the brunt of the rejuvenated side and literally wave the white flag and surrender at Sabina Park. The 1976 series in England sets the tone for the rest of the film, with Tony Greig making his ill-timed “Make them Grovel” comment and from then on all we see is stumps cart wheeling in all directions, players getting hit right,left and center and the West Indian fast bowlers literally putting the fear of life and death once the batsman takes his guard out in the middle.
The two most fascinating commentators in the film are Sir Viv and Holding, You can see the spark still alive in their eyes for they both were the youngsters who carried that team with their batting and bowling respectively. Not only did they want to entertain, they wanted to beat the opposition to submission and beat they did with some audacious batting and pace like fire.
The film then dwells on two touchy subjects of that day the Kerry Packer series and the “rebel” tour of a “Black West Indian” team to apartheid South Africa. Both were money making exercises, one was supported by the people, The Packer series opened the eyes of the WICB to pay their cricketers more and the public support of the players in the packer series turns in to disgust when a set of “rebel players” embark on the tour to South Africa.
They are ostracized in their home land and are left to face with severe repercussions. That particular segment was intriguing to say the least, The rebels were not villains, they did show that the black man could compete with the White South Africans. They were individuals who wanted some money to ensure their future although that had some telling socio-political consequences in the Caribbean and though they were forgotten they were never forgiven. West Indies
finally accomplish what they set out to do after the 1975 series. Beat the Aussies in Australia, with the help of the four horsemen of the apocalypse(Colin Croft, Andy Roberts, Michael Holding and Joel Garner) as they were called in those days. That indeed is a chilling metaphor.
The film brings a breath of fresh air amongst other things and is also a truly inspiring spectacle about a great legacy and a source of pride and inspiration for not only West Indians, but people all around the world who appreciated supremely gifted and athletic cricketers. The film ends with the emergence of a team under Richards and Marshall who “Black Wash” The English during the 1984 tour. I would have loved to see more footage of the team under Viv Richards though. I think this should be mandatory viewing for the current West Indies players and administrators, just to understand the struggle their past teams went through, With their current team resembling not even a shadow of their legendary predecessors, this is something they need to look up to to draw some much needed inspiration and what West Indies cricket was all about. Of course trying to emulate the “Pace like Fiyah” will be a futile exercise for modern cricket has changed so much. Nevertheless Fire in Babylon is certainly a must watch for anyone, Because it’s not only about cricket but about human emotions and spirit.