When the Windies were smokin’

The enthusiasm for Fire in Babylon, the documentary on the Windies, continues. Here is more from Australia from Chloe Saltau.

The two-minute trailer is enough to set the pulse racing.

Joel Garner, shoulders crouched, gold chain clanging, ball gripped like a weapon, ready to uncoil. Michael Holding, chest high, shirt flapping, galloping effortlessly to the crease. Holding’s voice, rich and familiar. “It [cricket] is the only thing we do together… No other sporting team in any discipline, anywhere in the world, dominated their sport for 15 years.” Clive Lloyd, the man who brought the Caribbean islands together. “One people, one nation, one destiny.”

The images are from a new documentary, Fire in Babylon. It tells the story of the West Indies when they were kings. How their humiliation in Australia in 1975-76 moved Lloyd to say, “Never again.”

Clips of the great players in action are spliced with images of idyllic Caribbean beaches and colourful crowds, of Bob Marley and the Wailers singing songs of freedom. It’s stirring stuff, but invites some unavoidable and unflattering comparisons.

As the film made its London premiere this week, a Test began in Guyana between the West Indies and Pakistan. With apologies to Shivnarine Chanderpaul, who has accumulated more than 9000 Test runs and was picked despite a recent slanging match with his board, there are no great players in the West Indies XI.

Darren Bravo, the younger brother of Dwayne, is undeniably a talent capable of putting some sparkle back into Caribbean cricket, but he is playing in only his third Test. Kemar Roach has shown he can put the wind up Ricky Ponting but he, too, is still finding his way. Absent from the team, for varied and confusing reasons, are Chris Gayle, the former captain and the region’s most destructive batsman, and Dwayne Bravo, the gifted and charismatic all-rounder.

Both are playing in the Indian Premier League, which is not to say they have made simple choices between cash and country. Bravo has struggled for fitness and form and Gayle’s absence was down to a curious selection decision. He maintains he was preparing to represent the West Indies, resigned to missing the IPL, before he was axed from the squad.

The sad thing is not so much that players from the West Indies can earn more money from six weeks in the IPL than from their home board in a year. That is a modern reality for smaller cricket nations like Sri Lanka and New Zealand, and the West Indies suffer more than most because their home season clashes directly with India’s billion-dollar domestic league.

The greatest concern is that the players seem so much happier in the IPL, free from the administrative wranglings that have dragged West Indies cricket down for so many years.

It appears that in the West Indies there is no longer a unifying cause like the one depicted in Fire in Babylon. Rather than telling the story of a team’s rise in isolation, director Stevan Riley has earned brilliant reviews in New York and London for describing a perfect storm in which prodigious talent collided with an outpouring of Caribbean culture and a political awakening.

Although most of the legends interviewed for the film sought sporting redemption more than anything, Richards, the proud Antiguan, unashamedly fought oppression and white prejudice. He used his bat like a sword and Marley’s Get up, Stand up as his anthem.

The documentary is expected to screen at the Melbourne International Film Festival in July and August, and Australians will relish the chance to re-live the West Indies’ glory years. It should be essential viewing, too, for young people in the Caribbean.

“When the film was shown in Jamaica,” Holding said at the London premiere, “Chris Gayle watched it and came up to me afterwards and said, ‘I had no idea that is what you went through’. The current crop do not realise what went on in the 1970s and 1980s and what it meant to us all. They do not have the same motivation now.”

It is, perhaps, unfair to compare a team that didn’t lose a Test series for 15 years with one that hasn’t won a Test for two years. But it’s also too easy to blame the decline on an obsession with American sports, an excuse trotted out for more than a decade. Nor is it helpful to dismiss the current stars as mercenaries with an aversion to hard work.

Most say they want to represent the West Indies. The challenge for the West Indies, and for the global administrators who continue to feed the Twenty20 beast while making motherhood statements about the “primacy of international cricket”, is to give them a compelling reason.

For the original report go to http://www.smh.com.au/sport/cricket/when-the-windies-were-smokin-20110514-1enjt.html#ixzz1MLbDnzRe

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