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Fire in Babylon How the West Indies Cricket Team Brought a People to its Feet By Simon Lister

Release date: 20th August, 2015
Publisher: Yellow Jersey Press

List Price: £18.99
Our Price: £12.91
You Save: £6.08 (32%)
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I first saw Clive Lloyd play at our local cricket club in the mid-Seventies after he brought his Lancashire side, playing in the nearby Liverpool Cricket Festival, to compete in an early evening 20-over slog, following which there was beer and sandwiches aplenty.

Afterwards, the Lancashire and West Indies cricket captain, who batted like a god for the twenty overs, scoring only boundaries, was as approachable and as avuncular as he looked in the middle and not nearly as tall as he appeared on TV. How could this man have been responsible for plotting, and then releasing the most feared pace attack in cricket history?

The following summer, in 1975, the West Indies won the World Cup; it was the first opportunity most of us had to see super-fast bowlers such as Michael Holding and Andy Roberts in the flesh. To say their bowling was intimidating is an understatement – Holding, he of the beautifully languid run-up, was known as ‘The Silent Assassin’.

On the eve of the 1976 Test series against England, the late Tony Greig, the England captain, couldn’t have done more to incentivise the West Indies had he tried by saying his team planned to make their opponents ‘grovel’. There was already sufficient fire in the bellies of Roberts, Croft, Richards, Greenidge, Lloyd and the rest of his men without Greig stoking it further.

The series ended 3-0 in the West Indies’ favour; but for the heroics of players such as Brian Close and John Edrich, it could have been 5-0. Roberts and Holding took 55 wickets between them.

Lloyd was magnanimous in victory, but he knew he had hit upon the formula for winning Test matches: scare the living daylights out of your opponents with a relentless diet of fast, deliberately intimidating bowling.

Simon Lister’s Fire in Babylon is a compelling book, the focus of which is, naturally, on sport, but it’s also part social history, which explains how, for a period of perhaps two decades, cricket succeeded in uniting the people of the Caribbean nations. Lloyd’s men (he would eventually hand the captaincy to Richards) were particularly dominant in the late Seventies and Eighties. Between 1979 and 1986, West Indies lost just three of their 54 Test matches.

A combination of fast bowlers, fast pitches and a generation of batsmen capable of coping with the ensuing onslaught were responsible for West Indies’ glory years, but without Clive Lloyd’s inspirational tactic of playing four ‘fasts’ in tandem, one wonders whether they would have enjoyed those phenomenal levels of success.


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