There is a point during cricketer Sachin Tendulkar’s farewell speech made in November at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai where he picks out Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid and V.V.S. Laxman standing on the sidelines and acknowledges their roles in his career. It was just a line from Tendulkar but it was a rare moment of public interaction among the Fab Four since Ganguly’s retirement from international cricket in 2008. It’s not easy, given tight schedules, the demands and restrictions of agents and sponsors, and the prohibitive fee attached to such an event, to have India’s four greatest batsmen of the liberalized era in the same room at the same time and talking about each other. It’s almost like having all three Khans (and the Nawab of Pataudi) in the same film—or even in the same frame.

It did happen, though, in a simpler time, when India was not yet cricket’s financial capital. The cover of the August 2004 issue of the much-missed Wisden Asia Cricket (WAC) bore the faces of the Fab Four along with the young pretender, Virender Sehwag; inside, each analysed one teammate. Dravid spoke on Tendulkar, who spoke on Laxman, who spoke on Ganguly, who spoke on Sehwag, who spoke on Dravid. As WAC’s editor Sambit Bal (disclosure: he’s my current boss) wrote in his editorial of that issue, it was a view of India’s best-ever batting line-up from the box seat. True to the magazine’s ethos, the interviews avoided the trivial and sensational and instead dealt with mindsets and methods, offering an insight into what made this a truly unique collection of cricketers. Complete with anecdotes and incidents of the kind only teammates can recall, this issue alone was worth the annual subscription to WAC (or, from the magazine’s point of view, worth the obligatory wait for Ganguly to show up for the photo-shoot).

The WAC cover came back to me while watching The Class of 92, a 2013 feature film about a group of six Manchester United footballers who met as schoolboys, matured together and for eight-odd years played in a team that conquered country and continent. David Beckham was football’s biggest brand in his day; Ryan Giggs is, in trophy terms, the most successful player ever in English football; Gary Neville is a growing voice as a TV pundit; his brother Phil and Nicky Butt are part of the Manchester United coaching set-up and Paul Scholes, the most talented of the lot, lends them an occasional hand. Their stunning success in those eight years together—when they won the Premier League six times—stemmed, in no small part from their very close ties.

That closeness is evident in this film, 10 years after Beckham broke up the gang to join Real Madrid. Beyond the banter and the dressing-room ragging (being stuffed in laundry bags and then in an industrial drier), though, the film sheds light on what made this a unique group of players in a unique time. What adds insight are the observations by supporting cast. Raphael Burke, a former teammate who fell off the radar, says what set them apart from any of the thousands of children who play football every day on every street was hard work and sacrifice—often sacrificing teenage friendships to be able to practice more.

The film is also an observation on the times—on an age when Britain, with Britpop, New Labour and new economic muscle, was at the centre of the socio-cultural world. And there’s a great quote from the man who was at the centre of, if not the catalyst for, the revolution. Tony Blair, who became prime minister in 1997, famously portrayed himself as a football fan, as opposed to his more stodgy cricket-fan predecessor, John Major. Blair saw in Beckham et al, a reflection of the community-building his party had touted as a counter to the “greed is good" era of the 1980s. “Though we lived in individualistic times, there was still a unique capacity to be greater together than you were alone," Blair tells the camera.

It’s exactly the sort of film that India’s greatest batting line-up deserves—as do the fans. There are so many parallels—an era of great social and economic change, the primacy of a team ethic when society is becoming more individualistic, the very different personalities of the four main characters, all urbane yet unique in their urbanity. And the story of how they—helped, of course, by others, including coach John Wright and the erudite Anil Kumble—changed the narrative of Indian cricket from being chauvinistic to pan-Indian, wiped off the taint of corruption and set it on a path of professionalism.

There haven’t been too many films—documentary or otherwise—on incidents and passages in Indian sport and I found Bhaag Milkha Bhaag lacking the soul of Paan Singh Tomar. There is little on Dhyan Chand, no documentary on the Krishnan or Amritraj (or, indeed, more fascinating Paes) families and wouldn’t the story of motorsport in India make for a great film? One recent film, Egaro (The Eleven), showed the possibilities. It tells the story of Calcutta’s (now Kolkata) Mohun Bagan football team that defied the odds and the might of the empire to win the Indian Football Association (IFA) Shield in 1911, beating the East Yorkshire Regiment in the final. The incident is now part of the narrative of the freedom movement—11 local boys, playing barefoot against the hobnailed boots of the armymen, to the backdrop of the hated partition of Bengal and the impending transfer of the capital from Calcutta to Delhi, gave a huge boost to the Bengal revolutionaries. The film’s script and acting are terribly amateur but the story is thankfully nuanced—not all Englishmen are evil—and it’s a tale that deserved to be told.

It’s all about context. What elevates Fire in Babylon from a blow-by-blow account (quite literally) of West Indies’ great cricket team of the 1970s is the social context of racism, immigration, the rise of Bob Marley and of Rastafarianism, and how cricket tapped into, and in turn inspired, all those various cultural strands. My favourite sports film, Chariots of Fire, is at one level a linear narrative of two great runners at the 1924 Olympics but there is an underlying motif of the outsider in Harold Abrahams, the Jew who sees discrimination at every corner.

Abrahams was of wealthy upper-class stock but had a burning ambition that transcended the seductive comfort of his public school and Cambridge education. He defied the prevailing Corinthian spirit—which saw sport almost as an art form and looked down on material success—in his quest for Olympic gold, working out a punishing training schedule and even hiring a professional coach. For him the result was everything.

Now that’s a story our Fab Four cricketers would be familiar with.

Jayaditya Gupta is the executive editor of Cricinfo.

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