By Vaneisa Baksh
His voice was an inseparable part of West Indies cricket. And no voice has represented it as admirably and faithfully as Winston Anthony Lloyd Cozier did for decades.
Yet nobody knew him as Winston or Lloyd or even Anthony; he was Tony Cozier, cricket commentator.
He started doing broadcast commentary the year before I was born, so that by the time I came to writing about cricket he was already a veteran, and though he would affectionately be called TC, I couldn’t do it. It was Mr Cozier, until he made me address him as Tony. And so it was for the 20 years that I was privileged to know him.
The tributes will be many and will resonate with stories that speak to the massive contribution he has made to journalism, to cricket and to West Indian identity. In this moment of writing, consumed by my sense of loss in all its magnitude, and burdened by the knowledge that I should have tried harder to meet him and Sir Everton Weekes to talk about Sir Frank Worrell as we had agreed to do, I recall two things most vividly.
I remember that when I first began to write about cricket, and faced many unpleasant experiences, including inside the media centres, Tony and Reds Perreira always treated me with respect and courtesy. They were supportive, they offered advice, they took what I wrote seriously and would take the time to discuss it with me, offering insights I would never have had the benefit of otherwise. They felt strongly about the gender discrimination that I was facing, and it says a lot about both of them that they were the two most senior of the cricket journalists and far from being chauvinistic or even “old-fashioned”, they were far more enlightened than the younger men.
Tony was round-cheeked and rosy then, with a gallant air and a robust sense of humour that was ably supported by a mischievous laugh. When it came to cricket, he was serious. His knowledge was so expansive, he did not need to consult statistics. He could pluck names and figures and details of matches from his brain, and his store of anecdotes seemed infinite. It was a treasury and he was generous with its contents. It led to a very comradely relationship over the years.
The second memory is from two years ago, when I spent two days in Barbados in his company, as we talked about his memories of West Indies cricket and his feelings about its future. I had not seen him for some time and it was startling to see the gaunt, almost angular figure who came to pick me up. He would only say that he had had some health issues and that the upside was that he had lost some weight and was eating more healthily.
We met for lunch in a restaurant and then retreated to his house, where his books and files and photos and mementos – more than 50 years’ worth – were at his fingertips. His family was abroad, and he said it felt very strange being alone in the house, being the one taking the calls to see if all was well; otherwise, he was the traveller, the one who would be making the calls to see if things were okay at home – the one who arrived, not the one who was left behind.
He joked about it, as he joked about many things, and he regaled me with stories about his experiences, switching so fluidly into different West Indian accents as he narrated that it was a striking reminder of how deeply this Bajan boy had been steeped in Caribbean flavours.
Tony knew the West Indian landscape like the back of his hand. He knew the nuances of speech and culture. He knew the music and he knew the places to go; and there was something he loved about every territory. It struck me then that this was the lagniappe that he brought to his cricket commentary. It was his intimate knowledge of the lives of the people he talked about that made his audiences feel that Tony Cozier was talking directly to them about things that mattered to them. Things they could identify with.
The world would only come to know that unmistakeable tone after he had made his mark in print. It was in the pages of the Barbados paper the Daily News that he made his debut, after persuading his father, Jimmy, to let him have a go. His father, who’d given him a copy of Wisden as a present for his eighth birthday, owned the paper, and was also a cricket fan. The seed had been sown. So from 1963, Tony began to “cover” cricket.
His first radio Test match commentary was in 1965, and he broke into television with Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket on Channel Nine in Australia. He would be there for the next half-century, through thick and thin, telling it as he saw it – from Peshawar to Dunedin, Chittagong to Canberra – and we celebrated at his behest; we roared with his passion; we learned that no matter how dismal the news, how harsh the analysis, the voice was bringing West Indian truths home.
For you see, until Tony Cozier, radio commentary was something that came from far away through voices like John Arlott, Johnny Moyes, EW Swanton and Rex Alston – fine voices, but distinctly foreign ones that could not tell us our stories, could not really show us where we fit into world cricket.
When he took the microphone and the broadcast chair, he brought a West Indian voice to cricket. He could weave history, stats, jokes, and island titbits into ball-by-ball commentary seamlessly, so that for the first time, a Caribbean perspective made it to the airwaves. His delivery was always professional, his digressions were interesting, his repartee was often delightful and on point, and he was always tasteful (he and Reds were full of despair at what passes for regional commentary now). In this way he made the world respect that West Indian voice, and it filled Caribbean people with pride.
In Barbados, the press box at Kensington Oval carries his name, and he has been widely celebrated throughout the world, even with honorary life membership at the Marylebone Cricket Club for his contribution to cricket.
He continued writing right up to the end, chronicling the misadventures and missteps of West Indies cricket, and provoking the ire of the cricket board. He paid the price by not being asked to cover cricket matches, and took the WICB to court for preventing him from practising his trade. It is another of the blots on the canvas of West Indies cricket that he was not recognised for his immense contributions.
A long time ago the Guyanese writer Ian McDonald made the point that in cricket literature there is not very much about cricket writers themselves, and even less about cricket commentators. “After all, every art needs those who describe, elucidate, and interpret what the artists themselves create,” he said, noting that cricket was no different. He felt that Tony should be among those celebrated for the magnificent strokes he played for cricket – not just for West Indians but for the comity of cricket nations. In that regard, things have changed, and cricket has learned to embrace its scribes more warmly.
Test cricket began for West Indies in 1928. For more than half its history, Tony Cozier was its voice. What he brought to West Indies cricket is priceless and must not be forgotten. From boyhood it was his life and his passion never faltered. If in his final years he railed about the state of its well-being, it is because he loved it so much he could never walk away. No matter how frustrated he had become, no matter what criticisms and obstacles were thrown his way, he did not turn his back.
His last columns were acts of love, words that said he would never stop believing that West Indies cricket was worth fighting for.
And he didn’t.
(Vaneisa Baksh is a freelance journalist based in Trinidad)