VIEW FROM THE SOFA Fire in Babylon BBC 4
When it comes to tempting fate nobody can better John Sedgwick. The American Civil War general, angered by his men taking cover from distant sniper fire, confidently assured them that the enemy sharpshooters "couldn't hit an elephant from that distance". Despite being noticeably smaller than an elephant, he was shot by a distant sniper within seconds.
Tony Greig did his best to give Sedgwick a run for his dollar and there were moments during what followed when his poor batsmen might have feared a lethal outcome. Greig's pronouncement that his England side would make West Indies "grovel" is sport's most famous suicide note, but watching Fire in Babylon was the first time I had actually seen him say it. There he sat in the sunshine at Hove, collar turned up on his white cricket shirt, pronouncing in his nasal South African drawl, in 1976, at the peak of the apartheid struggle in his home country, on the eve of playing against a team made up of black players drawn from nations that had only relatively recently won their own independence, one equipped with a battery of bowlers fast enough to impress even General Sedgwick, had he not been a) American and b) dead). "If they are down," said the England captain, "they grovel and I intend, with the help of a few others, to make them grovel."
That, suggested Gordon Greenidge, the great West Indies opener, "wasn't a clever thing to say". Whenever Greig appeared at the crease during the series, Michael Holding, Andy Roberts, Colin Croft and Joel Garner bowled even quicker and, in the case of Roberts and Croft, nastier. …