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Thursday, January 20, 2022

Commentator and a gentleman

Tony Cozier loved Caribbean cricket, brought the game alive for millions.

Written by Sankar Ramamurthy |
Updated: May 24, 2016 12:02:53 am
Tony Cozier, Tony Cozier death, Tony Cozier dies, Tony Cozier dead, Cozier dies, Cozier death, cricket news, cricket Tony Cozier. (Source: Reuters)

I met Tony Cozier when he visited Kingston, Jamaica, to cover international cricket. A novice for whom cricket commentating was more a hobby than a vocation, I would stand behind him and catch every word of his.

Tony was not given to hyperbole; restraint was his leitmotif. He was never strident and did not court controversy. If he had to express a negative opinion or a critical word, he did so gently, apologetically almost. Yet one knew where he stood — squarely behind the game he loved.

Tony defended West Indies cricket with good grace when the team’s fast bowlers were criticised for their tactics, and for their slow over rates in their pomp and against calls for the team’s relegation when bad days hit them.

He exulted quietly during their long period of unrivalled dominance. When that was followed by barrenness, which shows no signs of abating even after 20 years, he wrote and spoke in anguish but not in hopelessness. The start of every series filled him with renewed hope even if he knew otherwise. And when in the end the hopes were dashed and the team crashed to another defeat, he would write about sterling individual feats which rekindled optimism. He never gave up on West Indies cricket, saddened though he was by its steep and precipitous fall.

Listening to Tony was an education in Caribbean cricket history, and of the topography of the islands and the way of life of their inhabitants. It was never only about the on-field action. Thus one learned about Learie Constantine and George Headley, Herman Griffith (who broke Bradman’s stump), Allan Rae and Jeff Stollmeyer, Gerry Gomez, Conrad Hunte, the three Ws, Sobers and all the great players the region produced. One also learned of the history of the cricket grounds in the various territories and the famous cricketing feats each of them witnessed. When the television cameras turned to an island’s harbour, Tony would dilate a minute on the island’s trade and economy, its hills and rivers, its people and produce.

As one who cut his teeth in radio commentary, Tony was descriptive rather than analytical; he understood that his job was to bring the game alive to the viewer who was not present at the ground. Although he knew the technicalities of the game as well as anyone who ever played it, he refrained from parading his knowledge on air. He left it to the “expert” to fill in on strategies and tactics, footwork and stance, grip and follow-through. His dulcet voice rarely rose to a feverish pitch. It would rise a little, when the action demanded it, but would return quickly to its even tenor. He rarely fumbled and was seldom at a loss for words. Every now and again he would come up with an evocative and unforgettable turn of phrase. As for instance, in describing a Brian Lara century: “Lara’s hundred was embellished with so many fours” and after a slight pause “as though a Brian Lara innings ever needed embellishment”. He never provoked as he knew only too well how combustible crowds in his part of the world were (as indeed they are in ours). No incendiary statement ever escaped his lips or emerged from his pen.

As a writer, he strove for economy, clarity and accuracy. His style was not florid or ornate; he was not self-indulgent but saw himself quintessentially as a reporter. And how well he reported! His writings would constitute the most accurate and comprehensive record of Caribbean cricket over the last 50 years. He was also a feature writer par excellence. His pen portraits of West Indian cricketers brought home little known aspects of their formative years and the influences which shaped their cricketing careers.

He gave the impression of holding back and of being much too cautious. He reported faithfully on the numerous controversies which bedevilled West Indies cricket but rarely spoke out openly against an offending player, team or official. It, therefore, comes as a surprise that he should have caused offence to those at the helm of West Indies cricket in his last years. Perhaps it was all too much for him. West Indies cricket was dying and he could restrain himself no longer; he had to speak out. After all, hadn’t he earned the right to? If he, the most authoritative and admired voice of West Indian cricket would not, who would?

My abiding memory of him is that of a gentleman. In a rash moment I accused him once of bias. Chagrined later, I called to apologise. He immediately put me at ease and assuaged my guilt with, “It happens to everyone. Don’t worry”.

RIP, Tony Cozier.

The writer, a corporate executive, was a cricket commentator with the Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation between 1990 and 1997.

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