Tuesday 21 November 2017

Talented, stylish West Indies team made cricket fun

Dean Goodison - book review

Fire in Babylon
Fire in Babylon

There's something about that jovial exterior, the laid back attitude, the air of calm and relaxation in the heat of battle that makes sports fans sit up and admire them - the boys from the Caribbean, breaking down the barriers of what is considered the norm.

Who hasn't seen 'Cool Runnings', loosely based on the Jamaican bobsleigh team which competed at the Winter Olympics in 1988? What a superb film, partly because of the late, great John Candy, but also because the Jamaicans made sport fun. Serious business, but still fun.

In much the same way, the West Indies cricket team is the second side of many, bringing that relaxed Caribbean style to a historically stodgy, rigid sport played by 'gentlemen'. Everyone's next favourite team until they start winning, that is.

Simon Lister's book, 'Fire in Babylon', examines almost two decades of stunning cricket played by the West Indies from the mid-1970s forwards. A team which had its own style, a way of playing the game that was widely respected until it started upsetting the apple-cart.

Doing things the opposite way around, 'Fire in Babylon' is based on a Stevan Riley film of the same name. The content is half driven by material recorded for the cinematic version, but enhanced by further interviews and research carried out by Lister.

By and large it works out quite well. There's a balancing act that the author must navigate. While cricket is the expression of West Indies strength, within the publication the undertones are of racial suppression, at home, on their travels, pretty much everywhere they go.

The sporting side of the book is parleyed with the lives of the cricketers, those who came before them, others who took solace, indeed personal confidence, in their achievements and the lads who followed. The book delves into the lives of people from all sectors of society who were touched or influenced by the Windies boys.

One of the areas in which Lister really does a fantastic job is balance of opinion. The author has his own views, some more common sense than others, but he gives column inches to all sides of a story and allows everyone a chance to state their case.

For example, one chapter deals with the tricky issue of West Indies cricketers taking money to go to play a few series in South Africa in the height of apartheid times. Those players were vilified in their own Caribbean countries but all sides of that situation were examined and the players stated their side eloquently.

Some parts are heavy, of that there is no doubt, as it's impossible to deal with some of these issues properly in any other way. But there is the odd laugh out loud moment too, including one classic tale in the second chapter.

The sport is well covered of course. Lister gives every player a few pages of intense focus, with the captains of the time, Clive Lloyd and Vivian 'Viv' Richards more again, while some of the great games are also recalled in depth.

Should the average sports fan buy this book? Why not? There's an excellent balance between sport and life. It gives great insight into some fascinating individuals and doesn't shirk the big issues. It's comprehensive, an easy read and never overstays its welcome.

This book is a must read for the cricket fan out there, full of interesting stories, tales from the tour and a really close look at one of the best sporting outfits of all-time.

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