Sunday, 29 May 2011

fire in babylon (d stevan riley)

The Summer of 1976 was hot. I was ten years old. My family lived in Northwood. I lived there for the three months when I wasn't at boarding school. There was a large garden with a small wooded area at the back. An ample lawn, with flowerbeds on either side. At the bottom of the garden, in front of the house, there was a rosebed. The garden sloped downwards. At certain points in our lives, times when there was a lot of rain, my father would dig channels across the lawn. I presume this was to channel the rainwater away from running down towards the house, but I can't be sure. The sitting room had French windows which opened out onto the garden.

I spent a lot of that Summer playing cricket. I imagine I played mostly with my friend Nick and my oldest sister. The ball would get lost in the flowerbed on a regular basis. The great fear was that it would be hit down the garden and break a window, something which happened at least once. Days were long and hot. In between bouts of playing cricket, we'd go inside and watch it on the television. The old men of England were being terrorised by the West Indians. This is a key part of the film, Fire in Babylon, which tells the story of the rise of the West Indian cricket team in the seventies. The film accentuates to a certain extent the racial overtones of the cricketing conflict between the West Indians and an English team lead by a South African. However, from a child's perspective the issue of race was non-existent. The only thing that was clear was that the West Indians had fiercer bowlers who were too much for the likes of Close and Edrich, men who looked like the most boring of school teachers.

The film made me think about what a peculiar but enrichening slant a following of cricket generates in a youngster. Cricket is a global game, albeit one played by only about ten countries at the highest levels. India, Pakistan, the West Indies: as a youngster I never saw these places in terms of race; merely in terms of cricketing prowess. It's interesting to note that several of the cricketers who feature in this film have expressed reservations about the way in which their comments have been used: the issue of race might have been bubbling under but it was not the priority the film suggests.

All the same, Fire In Babylon looks like belonging to a series of films which seek to elevate sport, placing it within its socio-political context. (The soon to be released Senna will be another). Given the enormous industry that modern sport has become, this seems like both a canny and a justifiable approach. Sport can play a part in the collective consciousness in a way in which art can only look on in jealousy. Art can reclaim its role by seeking to contextualise those moments or feats which are extolled in the day only to be forgotten. Apparently when several of the current West Indian team saw the film, (a team that has reverted to being "calypso cricketers", a tag which Clive Lloyd's team hoped to leave behind forever), they had no idea of the full history of the West Indian team.

Sport is part of the lives of so many of us. On one level it's just commercialised froth; on another its part of the warp and woof of the world we inhabit.

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