West Indies may be the team that we need right now…

The BBC have lucked out with getting the highlights back just in time for England’s hastily arranged series versus the West Indies. 

West Indies cricket has always been about more than just cricket. Just look at Fire In Babylon (a documentary I touched on a couple of weeks ago) for an insight into how cricket is about independence, colonialism and national identities far beyond what the crowd at Lords really understand. Throw in a global pandemic and the horror of George Floyd and suddenly sport becomes irrelevant.

Except it doesn’t. Sport is always about more than bat and ball and that is especially true in cricket (see the 1980s rebel tours of South Africa and the fall out from that which still resonates.)

In this series, the spectators (socially distanced and at home naturally) have been lucky to be exposed to insights and impassioned rhetoric from some of the most articulate thinkers on the game currently working today.

In the lead up, ESPN’s George Dobell ran a brilliant piece on What Has English Cricket Has Been Like for Black Players

Then, two of the people who had spoken to Dobell were given the space by Sky to talk at length about what was happening with the intersection between Black Lives Matters and their experience. Michael Holding and Ebony Rainford-Brent spoke from the heart and moved those who heard them, one hopes. The next day, Holding was even more open, reflecting upon the struggles of his own parents

However, just as important were the people of colour just getting on with their jobs and being excellent. The mighty TMS had brought in Carlos Brathwaite as commentator and he was everything you would have hoped: insightful about the techniques, light-hearted and relaxed alongside his colleagues and a pleasure to listen to. He slipped in well, as did Sir Alistair Cook. I look forward to hearing them for the rest of the summer.

West Indies captain Jason Holder holds his arms aloft during the first test match against England
West Indies captain Jason Holder

But best of all, was West Indies skipper Jason Holder. A 6ft 7in military medium allrounder sending the ball down at only (“only”) 80mph, his accuracy, movement off the seam and joy in his artistry was magnificent. 

A small aside: I am not a betting man. I’m not claiming I never have a flutter but, for a number of reasons – fundamental innumeracy, catastrophic mismanagement of money (see previous point), poor decision making and an addictive personality to name but four – I don’t bet regularly. But if you do want a tip this is it: always bet against England in any sport.

For some reason, bookies always over promote England even when it’s a two horse race. To whit: the current West Indies cricket tour of the England. The West Indies were available at 12:1 in a two horse race.

Considering Holder is the number one ranked Test allrounder, the number two Test bowler in the world – his batting lets him down a bit, he’s only ranked 35th – he captained with heart, imagination and skill.  

Man of the Match Shannon Gabriel celebrates with his West Indies teammates during the first test
Man of the Match Shannon Gabriel celebrates with his teammates

Shannon Gabriel got the Man of the Match award for his tight five wicket haul which exposed the oft underbelly of the England team but in Holder, the Windies have a leader for our times.

The BBC have lucked out with getting the highlights back just in time for England’s hastily arranged series versus the West Indies and they may have just found a contest which will resonate for a long time to come.

The Best Sports Documentaries for Lockdown

Yes: sport is back. Well, some sport. For football fans in Europe that means tinny sounds of piped fake “crowd” noise and watching Bayern Munich sleep walk to another title like a schoolboy bully crowd surfing over cowed spectators.

At least in New Zealand they had full crowds for the rugby. Scant consolation to former Wales coach Warren Gatland who had the full backyard horror of being beaten by his son played out in the full glare of the media. Gatland Senior’s Chiefs were playing the Highlanders in Super Rugby and leading by two points as the clock wound down. However, baby Bryn – who hadn’t originally even been in the squad and was a late injury call up – popped over a drop goal with 90 seconds left to leave Daddy in disarray.

Basketball:

The Last Dance. I wrote about it here last week. The 97 Chicago Bulls; Michael Jordan – a sneaker-selling monster; Scottie Pippen the unsung hero with the best voice since James Earl Jones; Dennis Rodman the lunatic dating Carmen Electra and swanning off to Vegas to die his hair a luminous green patchwork and turning up to practice in a wedding dress. A 10-part tour de force, which teaches us about what it takes to win and how lonely it is at the top. Netflix

In this promotional poster for the 'The Last Dance', Jordan (centre), Pippen (left) and Rodman are seen walking  in their kits with Steve Kerr (far left) and a suited Phil Jackson (far right)
Jordan (centre), Pippen (left) and Rodman lead the charge in Netflix’s The Last Dance

Hoop Dreams – Before the winning comes the work. This 1994 movie follows two African American high school students from Chicago at the same time as the city’s Bulls are tearing up the professional game. This epic movie shows what you have to do to move from an underfunded public school system to the professional game and the institutional barriers put in the way of young people. Moving, inspirational and frustrating all at the same time.

The DVD cover of 'Hoop Dreams' is shown with a basketball player in a yellow top raises his arms aloft in celebration and ecstasy.
Hoop Dreams – a moving documentary examining what it takes to get on in basketball

Rugby:

Living with the Lions 97 – The first rugby documentary: Rugby Union had only been professional for two years. A British and Irish Lions team headed to South Africa, then world champions and at their peak. But the Lions had a returning set of players from Rugby League looking to show what full time rugby looks like, pace and guile in a young Brian O’Driscoll, a leader etched from stone and broken bones in Martin Johnson and a coaching pair in Ian McGeechan and Jim Telfer who knew what it took to make a Lions squad gel. Living with the Lions is by turns jaw dropping, hilarious, thought provoking and gloriously uncensored. Amazon Prime

A young Brian O'Driscoll offloads while playing for the British and Irish Lions
A young Brian O’Driscoll offloads while playing for the British and Irish Lions

All or Nothing – The All Blacks – A modern day Living with the Lions, this series got exclusive access to the dressing room of the mighty All Blacks for the first time in their history. The footage and the match play are second to none – every bone snapping tackle is seen and heard in high def – and the characters within the team are fascinating. It’s well worth watching, highly polished series, if a little sanitised and “official” in what is actually shown. Amazon Prime

Football:

An Impossible Job – Fancy watching an England manager screw up qualification for a World Cup, get compared to a root vegetable and upset that nice bloke off Match of the Day by substituting him for a doughy poor imitation called Smudger? Of course you do. Channel 4’s 1994 Cutting Edge documentary saw Graham Taylor’ career go the way of all things and is why so many documentaries now control access so tightly. YouTube

England manager Graham Taylor is seen open mouthed and pointing towards the camera with two fingers alongside an England football "Three Lions" crest.
England manager Graham Taylor who’s reputation was not enhanced by a documentary

All or Nothing – Manchester City – In the same series as the All Blacks documentary, Amazon Prime were welcomed into the whole world of Manchester City’s locker room, their match day experience and behind the scenes of the Pep Guardiola briefings as the team steamroller their way through the Premier League in 2071/18. A bit soulless and corporate, but hugely enlivened by Benjamin Mendy who is a “lively” member of the team, some brilliant match day footage and Guardiola’s chicken dance dressing room motivational speech. Amazon Prime

A poster advertising the Prime Original show 'All or Nothing Manchester City' shows Pep Guardiola looking towards the heavens with the quote from one of his half time team talks "Sit down... Nobody Talk!" is written out in block capitals.
Pep Guardiola who’s every movement is followed in the All or Nothing series from Amazon

Sunderland Till I Die – What does it do to a person to support a club like Sunderland? According to this, some sort of mental disorder. A town based on football where bishops pray for the club and people name their kids after the last time the team weren’t dross. Honestly has to be seen to be believed. Characterful. Netflix

An advert for the second season of 'Sunderland Till I Die' shows a group of Sunderland players celebrating the scoring of a goal as the crowd celebrate in the background
Sunderland players celebrate

Cricket:

The Test – I know cricket makes a lot of people roll their eyes. But Australia were at their lowest ebb – a coach, a captain and a vice-captain (who happened to be tow of their only world class players) are banned for heinous cheating. The Australian Prime Minister weighs in and suddenly, squeaky clean batting legend Justin Langer is thrown into the job needing to create a squad who can win matches and restore civic pride during a year featuring a one-day World Cup and an Ashes series. This is another Amazon behind the scenes, unprecedented access series but here the focus on institutional culture and what it takes to make a team tick transcends sport. Come for the bouncers and the blazing batting, stay for the quiet dignity of captain Tim Payne and the bromance between the coffee boys which would not have been allowed in previous cricketing eras. Amazon Prime

This poster from Amazon Prime Video shows new Australian skipper Tim Payne with a batting helmet on. He must help his side restore their reputation after a cheating scandal decimated the national side.
New skipper Tim Payne must help his side restore their reputation after a cheating scandal

Fire in Babylon – Before The Test, before Black Lives Matters, before the Windrush scandal there was “Grovel”. 2010’s Fire in Babylon is the story of the most successful team in cricket and, arguably, all sport. If you have ever seen the West Indies pace attack of Michael Holding, Joel Garner, Colin Croft and, later, Malcolm Marshall then you know what a cricket ball can do to a human body when propelled at speed. What many people may be less aware of is the racism and barriers encountered by this team under the leadership of legend Clive Lloyd and gum chewing Black Consciousness figurehead Viv Richards. Fire in Babylon is the real deal. DVD

The poster for 'Fire in Babylon' shows five cricketers in shadows walking together as a golden light shines from behind them

Boxing:

When We Were Kings – Lots of people know the story of the Rumble in the Jungle; or at least think they do. 1996’s Oscar winning When We Were Kings explains the politics behind the sport, the brutality of Zaire’s dictator President Mobutu contrasting with the brutality within the ring. George Foreman is all at sea; Muhammad Ali connecting with the people in a spiritual way. A towering achievement of a documentary which explains the boxing in as captivating a way as the politics behind the sporting spectacle. DVD

The DVD cover of Oscar winning documentary 'When We Were Kings' shows Muhammad Ali drenched in sweat and looking very serious