Cricket goes deep in the West Indies.
I never understood why, until I saw the documentary “Fire In Babylon”.
Cricket was always the white man’s game.
The game the rulers played.
But individually, the West Indians were better at it.
And when they got their independence, it was a great way to prove they deserved equality.
To beat the men who had been their masters.
Eleven men against eleven men.
The West Indians have always been talented at cricket.
But they were great individual talents.
Consequently, they were the team everyone loved to watch.
Throughout the world, it became known as ‘calypso cricket’.
Like calypso, it was great entertainment, but not to be taken too seriously.
But the young West Indian men wanted to be taken seriously.
They wanted to prove they were as good as anyone.
To them ‘calypso cricket’ felt like an insult.
Then Clive Lloyd became the captain.
He moulded them into a team, and they became one of the best teams in the world.
Until they played Australia.
The West Indians had been brought up to be good sportsmen.
But Australia had two of the fastest, most dangerous bowlers in the world.
Thomson and Lillee.
It wasn’t sport for these guys, it was a fight.
Thomson and Lillee bowled balls short, at over 90 mph.
That means the ball bounces up, straight at your head.
Imagine driving flat out down the motorway and a cricket ball hitting you in the face.
And remember, they didn’t wear helmets in those days.
The West Indies were destroyed.
This wasn’t supposed to be how you played cricket.
This wasn’t superior skill.
This was just violence.
They got back on the plane bruised and bleeding and confused.
That was the end of ‘calypso cricket’.
Clive Lloyd thought, so this is how the white man wants to play cricket.
And he scouted all over the West Indies.
Until he found four bowlers who were as big, and powerful, and fast as Lillee and Thomson.
Then they came to play England, the old masters.
And the captain of the English team was actually a South African, Tony Greig.
And remember, this was the time of apartheid.
The news media asked Tony Greig what he thought of the West Indian team.
His reply made headlines everywhere.
In his South African accent he said they were a magnificent team. “But when they’re down they grovel, and I intend to make them grovel.”
Imagine that to a young, proud West Indian man.
Not a smart thing to say.
In fact Clive Lloyd didn’t need to say anything to his team before any of the matches.
Tony Greig had done his team talk for him.
In all five games, England were smashed out of sight.
The papers ran a photograph of Tony Greig during the game, down on all fours
It had the headline “WHO’S GROVELLING NOW?”
The West Indies battered England in every match.
They won the series five games to nil.
But what I loved best was the placards the West Indian fans carried to the final game.
When your opponent doesn’t win a single game, it’s called a ‘whitewash’.
Their placards showed how proud their cricket had made them about being West Indians.
Their placards simply said BLACKWASH.