Tribute To Voice of Caribbean Cricket
Tony Cozier, who has died at the age of 75, was one of the rare breed of sporting commentators whose voice was instantly recognisable throughout the whole world.
In his beloved Caribbean, he wasn’t merely somebody who described Player A bowling to Player B, but was the beating heart, the pulse and conscience of cricket in a region where it is regarded as a religion.
Cozier’s name belied his attitude to covering the game on a global pilgrimage which stretched back to the late 1950s. He was a wonderful communicator and understandably proud of the fashion in which the West Indies became kings of the world in the 1970s and 1980s.
Yet he never fitted into the bracket of those cosy pundits who flit seamlessly between the microphone and the sponsors’ corporate lounge. On the contrary, he spared nobody in his denunciation of what he regarded as maladministration by a succession of West Indian officials while the once-mighty team slipped inexorably down the global pecking order.
The WICB responded to his death by describing Cozier as “a great ambassador”, but he rarely used diplomatic language in his various newspaper columns if it impacted on his commitment to telling the truth.
It often surprised people when they discovered that Cozier was a white Barbadian, who was descended from the Scottish workers who emigrated to the island in the 17th century to toil in the myriad sugar plantations.
But it was obvious that cricket was in his blood along with a flair for journalism, which was inherited from his father, Jimmy. The smell of newsprint carried a mystique for him and, after he graduated from the Carleton University in Ottawa in Canada, he quickly became the cricket correspondent of the Barbados Advocate, at which point he forged immutable friendships with the fabled “Three Ws” – Clyde Walcott, Everton Weekes and Sir Frank Worrell.
Cozier was nobody’s patsy. He was meticulous in his research, paying the same attention to detail as Bill McLaren did in rugby, by adopting the philosophy that genius was an infinite capacity for taking pains. He was also a risk-taker, being the catalyst for the launch of The Nation in 1973 and was one of the catalysts for the launch of World Series Cricket, which did do much to drag the game into the 20th century.
Indeed, whether appearing on radio, TV, penning columns, or editing the West Indies Cricket Annual for more than two decades, Cozier displayed a professionalism and Stakhanovite relish for work, while marvelling at such legends as Sir Garry Sobers, Sir Vivian Richards and Sir Clive Lloyd.
He and his wife, Jillian, to whom he was married for over 50 years, were also famous hosts for any visitors to his home in Bridgetown. As the former England bowler, Mike Selvey, recalled: “Tony’s parties were legendary, unmissable events.
“Finding his place was a challenge in itself, his map designed to confuse as much as enlighten. But once there, with the music – he loved Bob Marley – and drink flowing, there were endless tales, games of beach cricket, flying fish and small boats bobbing around in the cove of the Atlantic. It was magical”.
Almost anybody can wrap themselves in a flag and command ephemeral popularity if they have a modicum of talent. But, throughout his career, Cozier eschewed triumphalism or cynicism which made his views, however trenchant, all the more eloquent and persuasive.
The tributes which followed his death from Kolkata to Cape Town and Lord’s to Lahore testified to how many people felt they hadn’t just lost a commentator, but a colleague.
The West Indian merchant of menace, Joel Garner, responded: “Cricket is the richer for having been blessed by the excellent contribution which Tony made. We will be forever indebted to his keen observations and honest opinions.
Michael Vaughan, the England captain who led his side to Ashes glory over Australia in 2005, went even further when he declared: “Forget about all the great players. Tony was the reason I loved West Indian cricket.”
It wasn’t the only sport which commanded his attention. Cozier represented Barbados at hockey and revered the exploits of such diverse characters as Usain Bolt, Roger Federer and Muhammad Ali. It wasn’t in his nature to be a fan with a typewriter and he showed a red card to purple prose.
But his first love was Test cricket and it was a passion which never wavered.
The great commentary box in the sky might be growing packed these days.
But, for many people, Cozier and Benaud would be their ideal pairing to evoke scenes from far pavilions.
He is survived by his wife and his children Natalie and Craig.