Cozier spoke, we listened, we learned

It would perhaps raise a few eyebrows if one were to suggest there was a great similarity between Sir Frank Worrell and Tony Cozier.

After all, Sir Frank was a black Barbadian of African ancestry and Mr Cozier was a Caucasian Barbadian of British heritage. Yet, Sir Frank and Tony Cozier shared a major convergence zone, and that meeting point was the great summer game of cricket, bequeathed to the English-speaking Caribbean islands by their former colonial ruler.

The late Tony Cozier
The late Tony Cozier

Ivo Tennant, author and Sir Frank’s biographer, is said to have related a story where a woman approached former West Indies captain and wicketkeeper Gerry Alexander. After establishing he was indeed a West Indies cricketer, she told him that watching Sir Frank bat was akin to going to the ballet. So exquisite were his movements at the crease!

Late cricket writer Sir Neville Cardus, enthralled by the gossamery touch almost perfunctorily displayed by Sir Frank with bat in hand, once wrote: “He never made a crude or an ungrammatical stroke.”

And therein lies the similarity between the two great West Indians.

Sir Frank departed from our midst 49 years ago, and this morning Winston Anthony Lloyd “Tony” Cozier quietly made his exit from a world he had graced with eloquent voice and certain hand for more than five decades. Like Sir Frank with bat, Mr Cozier never made a crude or ungrammatical “stroke” with mic, pen, notepad or keyboard.

If the skill of the ballet dancer conjures up images of grace, finesse and elegance, then Mr Cozier’s unmistakable tone and his ability to make words take human shape, made him the Nijinsky of cricket broadcasting and writing.

Cricket, it is said, and no one will disagree, is perhaps the one constant that unifies the Caribbean region. It has evoked more arguments than to be found in some marriages. Indeed, some may argue cricket has also brought more pleasure than is to be found in many marriages. But the game needed a messenger, a storyteller, a chronicler, a voice with which Caribbean people could identify, especially when their heroes in white flannels travelled to distant lands. Mr Cozier’s was that exceptional voice.

At a time when cricket was the principal medium through which those in the Caribbean could demonstrate that they were as good as or better than the rest of the world, Mr Cozier highlighted, with his art in the commentary box and on the pages of The Nation newspaper, what our cricketers were proving on the field of play.

In his early years, he was often the solitary West Indian voice at far-flung locations in places such as Auckland, Headingley, Sydney, Calcutta and Karachi, among others. He presented a Caribbean perspective, and carried not one, but many regional flags in his heart. Just as the team represented all of us on the field, Mr Cozier represented millions spread across the region or living abroad but with cricket very much in their consciousness.

But Tony Cozier was not just a presence. He was great at what he did. Some will even argue he was the greatest ever at what he did. His former colleague Andrew Hart at his beloved Wanderers Cricket Club dubbed him the The Garry Sobers Of Journalists.

The retired English cricket commentator Henry Blofeld, one of the game’s finest raconteurs, and with whom Mr Cozier shared commentary when West Indies toured England in the 1970s and 1980s, has highlighted him as a brilliant commentator and a truly great man. In describing Mr Cozier as irreplaceable, Mr Blofeld pinpointed his excellence by stating he was the “only commentator able to walk seamlessly and brilliantly from the TV to the radio com box –– two vastly different disciplines”.

One is minded to ask: what made Mr Cozier so great? Perhaps the answer is to be found in the utterances of ESPNcricinfo’s editor-in-chief Sambit Bal who suggested that cricket coverage was not strictly work for the Barbadian icon, but was really a labour of love.

“To say Cozier loved cricket would be shallow: it was his life. He cared for the game deeply and absolutely, and his heart bled for West Indian cricket, which he served as a broadcaster, writer and conscience-keeper for five decades. His was the most credible voice from the region and, in the last decade and a half, an anguished one. He gave the game as much as he got from it and it can safely be said that he
will be impossible to replace,” Bal noted.

Mr Cozier was very much a perfectionist, and whether in the commentary box or a sports department, he forced those around him to be better simply by association. He set very high professional standards whether on radio, television or in the newsroom. At the start of his career where radio was dominant, his voice was magic and his pictures poignant. On television he was assured and charismatic, and in print his words were trusted without question.

Perhaps Indian writer Harsha Bhogle best summed up Mr Cozier’s impact and relationship with cricket when he said today: “Go well, Tony Cozier. You adorned our game. You loved it like a child and a parent. You had respect. You had dignity. And you had love.”

Rest in peace, Mr Cozier.

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