If you enjoy a good underdog tale, take up an eyewitness view at silly mid-off for this rousing celebration of one of the greatest cricket teams of the modern era. Starting with their humiliating defeat in Australia in 1975 at the hands of Lillee, Thomson and the Chappell brothers, this documentary charts the transformation of Calypso cricket (fun, freewheeling and prone to being thrashed) into a glorious, power-packed form of the sport that made names like Viv Richards, Andy Roberts, Joel Garner and Michael Holding more like gods than men.
British filmmaker Stevan Riley – whose last film Blue Blood covered the rivalry of Oxford & Cambridge boxing teams – cleverly widens the interest of this story by placing the West Indian cricket team of the mid-1970s in it social and political context, and adding some West Indian poets and musicians to the list of those interviewed. It’s a fascinating film designed to appeal to more than just cricket fans.
Returning from Australia after its 5-1 battering in 1976, the young, ill-disciplined and under-confident West-Indian cricket team was dogged by racism and post-colonial attitudes in their own country. But they vowed never again to be brought so low and set about building a side that less than 10 years later completed a famous 5-0 “blackwash” of England – the only feat of its kind ever recorded by a touring side in the UK. They went on to be the dominant force in the cricketing world through the 1980s.
Riley records some fascinating interviews with the players themselves, revealing just how driven they were to become a success, how important the role of quiet captain Clive Lloyd was in the rebuilding of the team, and how they endured the savage competitiveness of the era – including Tony Grieg’s famous 1976 comment on television that he intended “to make them grovel.” The documentary also covers the highly contentious World Series Cricket era (1977-1979), when most of the West Indian team defected to Kerry Packer’s designed-for-television version of the game, only to find themselves ostracized at home as traitors, and yelled at by Packer himself when they failed to perform.
It’s a lively and nostalgic film, brim-full of sporting super-heroes, backed with the sound of willow, leather a collection of cool reggae music.