Cow Corner

Were the Windies the greatest of all time?

Cow Corner

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Cowers usually only gets away from its field to look up obscure cricket statistics (to check, for instance, that Gerrie Snyman did indeed once score 230 in a Namibia innings of 282 all out).

So it was a rare treat when it had a chance to talk to West Indies legend-turned-commentator Michael Holding about the great Caribbean team of the 1970s and 80s.

Their feats are celebrated in a film, Fire in Babylon, which looks at the success of the team and the remarkable role they played in galvanising a region, and triumphing at a time when sport, politics and race were colliding across the Commonwealth nations.

But as Holding says, he was never more than a sportsman doing his job.

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"No, I was a cricketer trying to win cricket matches," he laughs. "The political ramifications and the sideshow was not something I, and I don't think most of the cricketers, were really aware of at the time.

"Eventually we became aware of what cricket meant to a lot of West Indians, but initially I was just trying to do well for myself and the West Indies cricket team."

Of course, the West Indies did rather a good job of winning those games, and here Holding, as forthright in his views today as he was accurate with the ball in his playing days, makes no bones about how good the side he played in was.

"Viv Richards stood out like a beacon in that team," Holding says. "He was the best batsman I have played with and against. We had other guys in the team however, who could perform and did perform."

Cowers asks him about the quote of Fire in Babylon director Stevan Riley: "From the ancient Olympiads to the present day, never has a team reigned so supreme for so long." Is it poetic licence, especially with the emergence of the great Australia side of the 1990s?

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Apparently not.

"Not at all. Look at the Australian team's record - they lost five series in 10 years. We beat everybody everywhere - (between March 1980 and May 1995) we never lost one."

Cowers suggests that Australia had a spin bowler in Shane Warne which the West Indies couldn't match.

True, says Holding, but the observation overlooked one rather important thing.

"Warne was, in my opinion, the best spin bowler the world has ever seen," Holding declares, "but we didn't need a spinner. Our best bowlers were fast bowlers.

"And even with him they lost series," he adds.

What is often left out of assessments of the West Indies' fearsome pace attack is that each of the quartet offered something different, and tortured its opponents in four different ways.

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"There was variety. Joel Garner was 6'8", I was 6'3 and a half, Andy Roberts was 6', Colin Croft was 6'4". Croft was bowling wide of the stumps, Garner bowled closed to the stumps while Roberts had variety in pace and he was the first of that quartet to think about bowling slower balls."

It's just as easy for time to dull the memories of a great side as it is to foster misty-eyed nostalgia.

A generation of cricketers and cricket fans have now grown up with the Australia side setting the standard and the West Indies being talented but erratic also-rans.

But the flying stumps in Fire in Babylon (and there are plenty of those) are a reminder that that great West Indies side may never be bettered.

Cowers, thanks in no small part to Holding, is convinced.

Fire in Babylon will show in selected cinemas from May 20 and will be released on DVD and Blu-Ray on June 6th.

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