Tony Cozier – the honeyed voice of cricket


He made his debut on Test Match Special half a century ago and was ideally placed to chronicle the Windies' rise to global dominance, their subsequent decline and their recent renaissance.

His broadcasting prowess was based on his sound newspaper background. Michael Holding, then still a promising schoolboy player, recalled seeing Cozier for the first time. The fast bowler was at a cocktail party with the Jamaica captain Maurice Foster after a Shell Shield match. “That's Tony Cozier,” said Foster, pointing him out. “One thing I can tell you, if he writes well about you, you have a chance of playing for the West Indies.”

Cozier also wrote for The Independent and its Sunday sibling, and was a perennial delight to deal with, if occasionally elusive, thanks to his broadcasting commitments. He would always eventually ring in to the desk, though, with his trademark, “Hello, it's Tony Cozier, man.” He would be given his word count, sign off with “Cheery-bye,” then deliver a piece that was invariably well-crafted and to the point.

Winston Anthony Lloyd Cozier was born in Barbados in 1940. People often assumed he was black before meeting him for the first time, or seeing a photo of him, but he was the descendant of Scottish labourers who had moved to the island in the 17th century to man the sugar plantations.

He was born into a newspaper family - his father, Jimmy, was managing editor of the St Lucia Voice and founder of the Barbados Daily News, and the only West Indian journalist to cover the historic tour of England in 1950, when the tourists won at Lord's for the first time. Tony studied journalism at Carleton University in Ottawa, having embarked on a career of cricket writing when he was only 18. Though he never played cricket at the top level, he was an opening batsman and wicketkeeper for the Bajan clubs, Wanderers and Carlton, and he also kept goal for the island's hockey team.

He made his radio Test debut in 1965, covering Australia's visit to the West Indies, the hosts' first series win over the visitors. The following year he began his decades-long stint on Test Match Special, and he would also work for Channel 9 in Australia for 14 years, as well as Sky Sports. His ball-by-ball commentaries were a thing of consummate beauty, on radio or TV, and put him alongside John Arlott, Richie Benaud and Brian Johnston in the pantheon of cricket broadcasting.

“As a summariser to his radio commentary,” remarked Mike Selvey, “as I frequently had been both at home and in the Caribbean, you fed him, sat back and enjoyed the exhilarating ride.”

As West Indies began to bestride the cricketing world, Cozier was in the commentary box, often accompanied by Everton Weekes. He was also cricket correspondent of the Barbados Advocate, and played a prominent role in setting up The Nation newspaper, which took a more fearless approach to reporting the game.

While West Indies reigned supreme, all was well between Cozier and the authorities, but as the team slid into humiliating decline he was unforgiving, of players he felt weren't pulling their weight and of the ruling bodies who seemed powerless to halt the slide into mediocrity.

In 2007 he gave the third Frank Worrell Lecture at London Metropolitan University, and was frank about the stark future facing Windies cricket if matters were not urgently addressed: “There will come a time when the West Indies will find themselves engaged in the ICC's world league,” he said, “struggling to avoid a loss to Vietnam in some tournament in Outer Mongolia.”

Part of the problem, he believed, was that the game was not uppermost in the minds of the region's young people. Previous generations of cricketers, he said, had “needed no reminding of the significance of their performances to the psyche of West Indians everywhere, not least the hundreds of thousands who made their home and eked out a living in England.” The thrills-andspills new Twenty20 format proved to be West Indies' saviour, and Cozier lived long enough to see the side regain something of their former status.

He wrote the definitive The West Indies: 50 Years of Test Cricket, edited The West Indies Cricket Annual for all its 22 editions and the Wisden History of the World Cup, as well as working with Clive Lloyd and Holding on their autobiographies. The press box at the Kensington Oval in Bridgetown was named after him, and in 2011 he was given honorary life membership of the MCC.

“He knew everything about the game,” Holding told ESPN Cricinfo, for whom Cozier penned a series of acutely observed pieces in latter years, often biting, never afraid to upset officialdom.

“Not just the tactics of the game, but statistics of the game. On so many occasions I remember calling Tony from different parts of the world. People arguing about a fact on cricket, at any hour, in some bar or some place, and they'd say immediately, 'I'm going to call Tony.'“ Though he had not broadcast for some time - squeezed out, it was said, by vindictive authorities who resented his criticisms, and by the obsession with having only former top-level players behind the microphone - his reputation endured. Last year the former England captain, Michael Vaughan, reported back from a dinner being held during the second Test of West Indies' tour to England. The Windies batsman Marlon Samuels was there, and Vaughan said, “He walked past me, Swanny [the England bowler Graeme Swann] and the TMS team, up to Tony Cozier, said 'Ledge', shook his hand and walked off.”

Charming and courteous, Cozier was loved as much by those who worked with him as by those who listened to him or were commentated on by him. Many a fortunate hack was entertained at his beach house at the idyllic Consett Bay on the east coast of Barbados, with beer and a barbecue followed by a game of beach cricket.

And his love of the good life went with him wherever he travelled. In 2009, David Gower wrote, “I am feeling a bit green this morning. Don't worry, it's nothing to do with too many margaritas with Tony Cozier, just jealousy at the way Andrew Strauss keeps pumping out hundreds.”

Cozier's son Craig also became a top-level hockey player and cricket journalist and broadcaster.

He had recently flown home from India, where he works a television producer in the Indian Premier League, to be by his father's bedside at the Bayview Hospital in Bridgetown. When Tony's death was announced, the West Indies captain Darren Sammy said, “That voice will forever be in my head.” The same goes for legions of cricket lovers the world over.

Winston Anthony Lloyd Cozier, cricket broadcaster and writer: born Bridgetown, Barbados 10 July 1940; married Jillian (one daughter, one son); died Barbados 11 May 2016.

He knew everything about the game – The Independent

Original source: Tony Cozier - the honeyed voice of cricket