With a potent pen and great delivery from the microphone, Tony Cozier was unquestionably an icon of West Indies and world cricket.
His passing on Wednesday at the age of 75 due to illness has been deeply felt with the outpouring of tributes from around the globe. As a proud Barbadian and indeed West Indian, Cozier truly touched those who have played and followed the game.
His countless articles and the special way in which he delivered ball-by-ball commentaries for more than five decades fittingly made him the “voice of West Indies cricket”.
It was on the 1968-69 West Indies tour of Australia that my older brother, Louis, encouraged me to listen to Tony’s commentaries on play for at least the pre-lunch session. After all, as a boy, you knew that it would be time for bed but you wanted to defy the odds and keep glued to the radio.
In those days, it was a joy hearing the likes of Roy Lawrence from Jamaica, the Englishman John Arlott and Alan McGilvray of Australia among others but Tony Cozier was special. Trying to imitate him as a commentator while playing village matches was a big thing for quite a number of boys. And on entering secondary school, following the fortunes of Barbados in the Shell Shield first-class Championship whenever the occasion presented itself was a must.
Reading the West Indies Cricket Annual of which he was the editor provided more education on the game. That publication would eventually become part of a treasured collection, as was the subsequent Red Stripe Quarterly.
In fact, Winston Anthony Lloyd Cozier used two of his names cleverly in his magazines. If you saw a story written by Winston Lloyd and wondered who he was, the person was the same Tony Cozier.
I also read his many reports and columns on cricket matches and issues pertaining to the game and was touched by his use of language and the pictures he painted. He called a spade a spade and took criticism in stride.
While in search of a job as a journalist in 1980, I got an opening as a traffic clerk in the advertising department at the Nation newspaper. Reporters were also needed to cover the Barbados Cricket Association (BCA) Division 1 Championship on Saturdays and in consultation with Tony and the late Charles Harding, I was sent to a match at Dayrells Road, the home of Tony’s club, Wanderers.
Without blowing a trumpet, both Tony and Charles were impressed with my reports and recommended that I be placed on the Sports Desk fully. To be honest, I must also thank the then editor-in-chief Harold Hoyte, news editor Al Gilkes and advertising manager Wilfred Field for their understanding in giving the green light after I had spent just a few months in the advertising department.
From thereon, I built a working relationship with Tony and it broadened when I got an opportunity to do radio commentaries as well on major BCA matches. Tony insisted on the basics and making listeners who were not at the ground feel as though they were there.
One of the things he stressed was that once a bowler, especially a pacer, started his run-up, the focus should soon turn to the batsman. In other words, the bowler was expected to deliver so no time should be wasted on counting his steps to the crease etc.
Ironically, when I got my first taste of first-class commentaries, it was as an analyst and Tony was one of the commentators. The way he made me feel comfortable, particularly if I had issues with how a couple of the fielders were positioned, brought another dimension to the overall commentaries.
As my editor at the Nation, Tony would point out what he was looking for in either a news or feature story. While he was well versed in other sports as well with hockey very high on the list –– he was a former national goalkeeper and a past president of the Barbados Men’s Hockey Association (now called the Barbados Hockey Federation) –– the in-depth coverage of cricket at the local domestic level was at the top of the list.
Prior to the start of a BCA season, it was a must to have previews of all the First division teams. Scorecards were mandatory along with the reports for all major matches. Take it how you like it but when that aspect of previews for a new season faded as has been the case in recent years, he quietly expressed his disappointment. He always felt that it was vital to be in the field, know the players and officials and build up contacts and reliable sources.
Back in the 1980s when rest days were part of Test matches, Tony enjoyed playing in media matches. He was an opening batsman and wicket-keeper, who also played in the BCA Division 1 Competition and would be unbiased in reporting on some of his performances.
With the advent of television coverage for international matches, it was amazing to see how Tony manoeuvred between radio, television and print media coverage. For him, there was no time to relax.
Admittedly as the workload became heavier and with a few health challenges along the way, he would sometimes “ease up” on writing detailed match reports.
It is also no secret that the Cozier name would live on in journalism. The son of one of Barbados’ top journalists and newspaper owners, Edward “Jimmy” Cozier, Tony was joined by his son Craig while he was at secondary school, in helping to compile scores from the BCA lower divisions. Craig has also done some writing and scoring for international matches and is now a cricket television producer.
Tony enjoyed parties as well, whether on some of the boat cruises which were a feature of international touring teams to Barbados or as joint host with his long-standing friend and former Barbados and West Indies fast bowler Richard “Prof” Edwards at their beach house in St. John.
For his outstanding contribution to the game, Tony was awarded the Silver Crown of Merit (SCM) in the 1989 National Independence Awards. The media centre at Kensington Oval is named the Coppin, Cozier and Short Media Centre after Oscar Coppin, who was a former sports editor at the Advocate, Tony Cozier and Peter Short, a former president of the BCA and the West Indies Cricket Board.
Only last month, Tony made some telling remarks as the featured speaker at the BCA annual awards function.
As Joel Garner, the outstanding former Barbados and West Indies fast bowler and now the BCA president noted in his tribute on Wednesday, “cricket is richer having been blessed by the excellent contribution which Tony has made and we will forever be indebted to his keen observations and honest opinions”.
To his wife Jillian, son Craig, daughter Natalie and other family members, I extend my deepest sympathy. Your innings was brilliant, Tony.
Keith Holder is a veteran, award-winning freelance sports journalist, who has been covering local, regional and international cricket since 1980 as a writer and commentator. He has compiled statistics on the Barbados Cricket Association (BCA) Division 1 (now Elite) championship for three-and-a-half decades and is responsible for editing the BCA website (www.bcacricket.org). Holder is also the host of the cricket Talk Show, Mid Wicket, on the Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation 100.7 FM on Tuesday nights.