Tony Cozier -A voice is stilled
After nearly sixty years of being the voice of West Indies cricket Tony Cozier has passed away, losing a lengthy battle with what reportedly was skin cancer. Not everyone saw eye to eye with him. However, his word held weight in the circles of power in Caribbean cricket like none other. His influence was such that he managed to sway thousands into staging the boycott of a Test match in remonstrance over the non inclusion of an obscure Barbadian slow bowler in the West Indies team. The success of the boycott was total and undeniably sweeping and provided evidence that the fires of insularity when sufficiently fanned could prove stronger than the bonds posed by love for the game of cricket.
Tony Cozier was born in 1941 and followed his father Jimmy Cozier as a sports journalist. He played field hockey for Barbados and kept goal, but his affinity with cricket was not major as far as playing was concerned. The influences causing him to gravitate strongly to cricket would obviously include the shining lights of his famous compatriots Worrell, Weekes and Walcott who, as a boy, he would have seen in action. Another whom he would have found notable was Don Norville, the premier cricket writer for the Barbados Advocate. Tony plunged into radio commentary in the year 1958, while still a teenager, the same time as his eminent colleague Joseph "Reds" Perreira.
I recall recounting with Perreira – after both he and I had broadened forth into commentary on other sports disciplines – that Cozier was signally excluded from doing football. He had tried a football assignment a year after he began cricket commentary and found the pace of delivery in the former discipline was somewhat disconcerting. So, of his own volition he preferred to stick to the relatively leisurely tenor of cricket discourse before the microphone.
A journalist shapes opinions and can, indeed, help mould a sport itself and, just as well, the sport shapes the journalist. Cozier's involvement in the sport led him into seeing its needs from the Caribbean perspective. There was no regional tournament in these parts until the Shell Shield was inaugurated in 1966, in parallel with which he was enjoined to launch his West Indies cricket magazine. The periodical served a useful purpose and proved a valuable compendium on the sport during the years that it lasted.
We are not certain as to exactly why Cozier's Cricket Annual became defunct. One thing we are aware of is the tendency for us here to dishonor the value of continuity in the support we as a public give towards desirable things. How else may we assess the disengagement of my radio programme Sportsline on DBS Radio, the first such in the English speaking Caribbean. It lasted over a decade until it succumbed to the grasping ambitions of some youthful employees of the radio station who thought they might embrace readymade the brainchild of another. Sportsline capitulated miserably in short order under the new "ownership". Just goes to show a jewel in the wrong hands is soon covered beneath the mud!
Barbados won the Shell Shield tournament twelve out of the 21 times it was contested. Trinidad and Guyana won it four times each and Jamaica once, along with the Combined Windward and Leeward Islands. Note, Trinidad and Barbados ended up as joint winners on one occasion, and there was one year in which it was not held. The year 1975 provided a classic outcome at the Queens Park Oval in Port-of-Spain when the match between Trinidad and the Combined Islands ended in a thrilling draw with the scores equal. The scores were: Trinidad + Tobago 259 and 252, Combined Islands 229 and 282 for 9 wickets. Peculiarly, the points system would have awarded the Combined Islands more points - if they had been all out for 282 rather than having their last wicket intact!
What was salient was the absurd anomaly, that of an outright tie would have given the Islands a better numerical position than the superior position of the draw that they earned. Upshot of all this was Guyana winning the Shell Shield rather than the Islands despite all protests raised as to the unfairness and illogicality of the computation – with reference regarding a similar case dealt with appropriately by the English M.C.C in the 1920's.
It is not known that Cozier offered a moral opinion on the matter, though, he had not been known to be averse to doing so in several other instances. When, for instance, the West Indies had become rulers of world cricket the international lawmakers promulgated laws limiting the number of bouncers a bowler might bowl in an over, and scheduled that a day's play must be 90 overs, if without interruption. Cozier shouted it out from the rooftops that the whole change was designed to put a spoke in the West Indies wheel. That in fact, it really was. The West Indies had pace bowlers to spare, while the rest of the world was not blessed with this luxury.
On the other side of the coin, when Australia in 1975/76 terrorized West Indies with Lillee, Tomson, Gilmour and Walker taking that series 5-1, there was rampant sledging on the part of Australian slip fielders urging their pacers to "Kill him!" The question was: who of the West Indies could stand up to the Aussie pace onslaught? It was of critical import that the 23 year old Vivian Richards was singled out for omission for the 3rd Test as a means of improving the batting.
Who then had made such a dastardly suggestion? It was Tony Cozier covering the tour Down Under. Fortunately, the West Indies selectors were not partial to accepting what would have been an utter atrocity! Richards, after an indifferent start, went on to compile 426 runs near the top of the averages, and the rest was history as they say.
All this goes to show Cozier – like all the rest of us – was not immune to fits of insularity. It was not then to be wandered at Richards and Andy Roberts asserting pointedly that players from the "small islands" had to be twice as good as those from the favored territories to make the West Indies side! That was so, but Tony Cozier was merely a product of the existing environment. His was the strongest voice in West Indies cricket. Bless his soul. He said it as he saw it.