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One year without Tony Cozier

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Tony_Cozier_West_Indies_cricket_commentatorDo we celebrate people more on their departure or when they are still around? Why is it that only upon its exit is a soul fondly remembered, their mistakes eschewed with a sudden change of heart, and their life celebrated for all those achievements that they might have liked hearing about when alive?

For a man who spoke a sentence as vague as, “magnificent shot by Brian Lara”, making a standard Lara stroke wear a garland of cosmological opulence; something that sounded nearly prophetic even to Lara-haters, Tony Cozier wasn’t just the voice of Caribbean Cricket. 

He was the seasoning you applied to a bland serving of West Indian cricket.

Leading a life utterly devoted to covering cricket in the West Indies, lending a grace and substance to a game that can be crass and ruthless, Cozier ran a marathon mile for his beloved West Indies. He started in the mid-1960s, long before Michael Holding became Whispering Death for his batting adversaries and where Alvin Kallicharan had just began dissecting the point and cover boundary, 

 

Cozier was a commentary colossus who watched a once invincible side fall from lofty heights to a nadir so shambolic that its cricket began to be represented more through a player’s pop song, instead of making news from the meat of the bat or from the swing of the ball.

Nothing gave more pleasure to fans, disappointed by the miserable batting and bowling outcomes, than the calm of Cozier’s voice. It was a voice of reassurance, of an avuncular gentleman, attempting to find some sense amidst the despair that Lara’s side of the 1990s, and later, Chanderpaul and Gayle’s unit collected on 22 yards.

On the first anniversary of Cozier’s passing, it is unfortunate that he is no longer here to witness the West Indies play some mindful cricket, pushing themselves largely against an atmosphere of heated indifference, and winning 2 important international contests within a space of 30 days. 

And that not only makes Cozier’s absence as gloomy as the many pleasurable revisits to the nostalgia of hearing an excited Bajan commentate with great zeal; the high of describing a Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh destroying best batting orders in their prime. And, off course the savageries that Lara imposed on his side’s naysayers as a largely lonely figure in the middle. 

But to submit that Tony Cozier’s finest contribution to the West Indies cricket was through his effusive love for his home team would be making light-work of a largely selfless man who was as intuitively driven as was studiously observant of the changing vagaries of the game. A game, whose sparkle came from the sweat and toil of a monstrous gag of legends- Holding, Lloyd, Viv, Marshall, Roberts and a game whose blithe was determined by the crushed timber of a Wavell Hinds, Sarwan and, Stuart Williams and where players came, made marks and disappeared faster than a change in jersey of an IPL outfit.

Cozier wasn’t just a commentator. He was an outstanding orator. 

With his razor-sharp memory, he recounted pertinent stats like moving characters from a cartoon fable you innocently watched as a kid but never forgot. He shared with you, with rational deduction, the fallings of Lara’s leadership and with great context- the charm of a Shiv Chanderpaul holding onto an end, alone.

 

Whether as a fan, or as an observer of the massive void the Barbadian left behind in the often under-appreciated art of commentary, you cannot ignore the most important facet of his pleasant life. That he was the anointer of respect to the shabbily neglected in West Indies Cricket; of willow-wielders and bowling mercenaries who went unrecognized and unaccounted for. 

From remembering the exploits of Vasbert Drakes in junior level cricket whilst hailing him in 2003’s bowling efforts, to passing utter disdain when Merv Dillon let the side down, Cozier’s voice was often pained when West Indians let West Indies down.

And it wasn’t that Cozier’s love was limited to reminiscing the heydays of Sir Gary Sobers or the legend Malcolm Marshall alone. 

With his grounded writing, his nuanced takes on innumerable problems plaguing West Indian Cricket administration, echoed by remorseful but contextual backings of his criticism, Cozier lived long enough to take the bull by the horns. He was often ignored for his reasoning in reply to which the current administrators had no answers. 

We mustn’t forget, he was a pro in broadcast journalism. Writing and orating about the sport he so loved gave him the high. Erudite, sincere and discerning, Tony Cozier was one of the last sensible spot of hope for a side having gone hopeless and sadly, hollow from the bite of its own undoing.

Apart from being an inspiration, Tony Cozier always gave advice and guidance to talented wordsmiths from around the globe. One of his proteges of cricket writing, the South African Firdose Moonda, went as far as to call Tony her mentor. She was no doubt not the only one.

For a man of certain sophistication, it did help to have journalism in his veins with cricket in the background. His father Jimmy had inspired a young Tony to progress to a field that values creativity and intelligence over the buck-spinning hoopla of other commercial trappings in life. 

As a youngster Tony held the bat and ball for Barbadian clubs- Wanderers and Carlton. This solidified a natural love for cricket, often seen as an equalizer for West Indians marginalized by early racial tensions and slavery.

So as Tony Cozier’s legend stands with the legendary BBC teams of Brian Johnston, Don Mosey and Henry Blofeld, it must be said: the exhilarating ‘champagne on airwaves’ is utterly missed even as the Press Box at Kensington Oval stands in a guard of honour for him. Even when West Indies Cricket needs some desperate inspiration.

 

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