Being an England Cricket fan I am used to a number of disappointments, and the team being generally rubbish is one of them. In the last ten years I’ve had to get used to seeing England win, and be expected to win, but now I’m coming to realise that those days are over.
The greatest cricket team I have ever seen has been the Australian team of the 90’s and 2000’s, but before the era of Warne and Ponting came the West Indies and they may have been the greatest team ever. This week the BBC has aired “Fire in Babylon”, a documentary of the Windies teams from the 70’s and 80’s, and it’s something special.
If you love cricket, it is worth watching.
If you love sport, it is worth watching.
If you are interested in social history, it is worth watching.
For the rest of you…it is worth watching.
Watching modern cricket feels a bit of a cheat compared to some of the matches played then, now if a player gets hit by the ball they are protected by helmets and thick pads but back then it was thin cotton shirts and a quick move out-of-the-way.
The highlights of the England versus West Indies matches in 1976 show how brutal this could be. Michael “Whispering Death” Holding slamming 90mph balls into the England batting is pretty scary stuff.
What makes this more fascinating is the reasons for this hostility, this was not just a team from the Caribbean playing hard but a team of young men giving their all for their young nations. These matches were played shortly after countries like Jamaica had thrown off the shadow of Empire and colonialism, they were fighting to show they were equals.
Yet prior to this series the England captain had said some of the most ill-concieved and offensive comments imaginable. Tony Grieg, a South African by birth, had told the press he would make the West Indies team “grovel”. This at a time of apartheid in South Africa, gave extra impetus for the West Indians to show they would not be subservient to anyone.
For 15 years the only grovelling was done by the rest of the world, as players from Trindad and Jamaica, Antigua and Barbados, and from all around the Caribbean beat everone in front of them. For a decade and a half they did not lose a single test series. No other team, in any sport, has ever achieved anything like that.
The most impressive thing about Fire in Babylon is how humble the players are, even greats like Sir Viv Richards know who and what they were playing for.
This is the real reason that I don’t like cricket. It’s the reason I love it.