May 21, 2016

What Cozier meant to me

When you thought of West Indies cricket in the 1980s, his name was up there with those of Lloyd, Roberts, Marshall, Holding and the rest

Cozier was no less a representative of West Indies cricket than the players he wrote and spoke about TomShaw / © Getty Images

I read Tony Cozier before I heard him. I borrowed his seminal Fifty Years of West Indies Cricket from a school friend and read it at breakneck speed, savouring the new understanding - in the political and cultural dimensions - I had suddenly gained of my favourite cricketing outfit. Here was history, outrage at colonial-era slights, pride in West Indies' cricketing achievement, respect for cricketing opponents; here, too, were memorable turns of phrase.

In his report on the fourth Test of the famous 1976 series between West Indies and England, Cozier began his summary of one of the most remarkable first days of Test cricket in the modern era by writing, "An unceasing volley of punishing strokes took the West Indies to 330 for 2 by tea-time." When I came to this sentence, I stopped and stared. Three hundred and thirty in the first two sessions of play on the first day of a Test? Roy Fredericks, Gordon Greenidge and Viv Richards unleashing "an unceasing volley of punishing strokes"? Be still my heating heart. In one phrase Cozier had captured an apparently essential quality of West Indies cricket: the power, the dynamism, the cricketing mastery, and of course, as evident in the "unceasing" and "punishing", the ruthlessness. (The "blackwashed" English teams of 1984 and 1986 would agree.)

Later I heard Cozier too. Perhaps during the 1979-80 tour of Australia, or perhaps the 1980 tour of England. Memory does not dredge up the correct date for me now, but it does resurrect quite effortlessly his mellifluous voice. Long before Michael Holding bewitched us with his Jamaican drawl, a Bajan voice had already entranced us with its take on cricket. And like Holding, Cozier could speak for West Indies cricket with a distinctive mix of protective pride, passion, and when the occasion demanded it, a fierce inwardly directed criticism as well.

This was no casual follower or fan of cricket; this was a man whose very identity was sewn up with that of West Indies cricket. Indeed, when you thought of West Indies cricket in the 1980s, besides the usual cavalcade of names - Lloyd, Roberts, Marshall, Holding, the ones that sent chills scurrying over sundry parts of your anatomy - you thought of Cozier too. He was the storyteller, the interpreter, the historian, the critic; you almost sensed that the WICB (or its older incarnations) had to get his approval for any of their administrative measures. And woe betide the journalist who, in writing on West Indies cricket, displayed prejudice or insensitivity or colonial double standards. The Cozier boom would be lowered on him pretty damn quick. (This happened in the commentary box too, and his fellow commentators had to make sure they weren't rehashing old prejudices or displaying laziness in their takes on West Indies.)

Through Tony we came to see the West Indies as more than just talented and exciting cricketers; we saw them as representatives of a distinct cricketing culture, with a politics and history that had enriched cricket's tapestry in its own particular way

I do not think it is an exaggeration to say that for an entire generation of overseas fans, Tony Cozier was the voice of West Indies cricket. He brought action on distant fields to life; and he made sure you knew the action was being instantiated by a set of players unique in the game. He was West Indies' strongest "representative". He made the strongest arguments for any brief pertaining to it. Pride - and anger when respect is not forthcoming - is part of the fabric of West Indies cricket; this inclination was manifest in Cozier's pronouncements on the game too. Through him we came to see the West Indies as more than just talented and exciting cricketers; we saw them as representatives of a distinct cricketing culture, with a politics and history that had enriched cricket's tapestry in its own particular way.

As West Indies declined, Cozier's criticism of the team, its management, the region's cricket administrators, grew and grew. He was witnessing from an uncomfortable vantage point not just the decline of one of the greatest cricketing powers of all but also of a unique experiment in sporting history: the coming together of nations, a mingling of cultures and ethnicities and histories, to form a unified team, under a common leadership. It is occasion for sadness in more ways than one.

On the day I received news of Tony's passing, I felt a kind of grief that seemed inexplicable. Tony was a stranger. I had never met him, I did not know him personally. But of course, we don't need to personally know the ones we grieve for. As I wrote elsewhere, on the passing of another stranger: "The emotions we feel are wrapped up in the deepest recesses of our selves; they reflect memories accumulated over a lifetime, traces of experiences, formative and supposedly insignificant alike."

Tony's voice and writings were a formative part of my self. With his passing, a part of my life has come to a close. RIP Tony.

Samir Chopra lives in Brooklyn and teaches Philosophy at the City University of New York. @EyeonthePitch

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Clive on May 26, 2016, 22:44 GMT

    Bajans know cricket, and this Bajan is the Doyen of them all! When I think of cricket commentators, many come to mind but two stand above the rest, namely, John Arlott and Tony Cozier. One did not have to be physically present at the game to feel the reverberations because Tony was there. Such an assurance, indeed. He is already missed and we call on those now in the commentary boxes to continue to emulate his excellence.

  • Kalidas Muralidharan on May 26, 2016, 13:48 GMT

    Samir - Superb article.Literally took words off my mouth. Always admired Tony Cozier ! Voice of a continent !

  • davidw9460043 on May 26, 2016, 12:22 GMT

    Evocative piece of writing about a gentleman for whom the airwaves were his workplace and the page his scribe. His voice was the gentle Caribbean breeze caressing the TMS box. I feel privileged to have been a witness to his words and will remember him for his commentaries and writing, as he would have wished us all to do. RIP TC

  • Steve on May 23, 2016, 16:00 GMT

    Samir, I felt I wrote the article myself. It was so close to my sentiments as well. For a long time as I was growing up, WI cricket commentary = Tony Cozier. It's a solace to know that the new breed of WI commentators will carry on the legacy of Tony.

  • robert9385051 on May 23, 2016, 3:09 GMT

    Tony was really no less important to WI cricket than was Sobers, LLoyd, Marshall, Holding or any of the greats that contributed to the rich heritage of West Indies cricket. He created and attracted fanship to cricket whether it was by radio, TV or in the columns. His demise has without doubt left a gaping void that will possibly be left unfilled for lifetimes. To those who have viewed the game of cricket from Cozier's pavilion, something will be missing, like flower without nectar.

  • stanle2933488 on May 22, 2016, 18:16 GMT

    More people should get to understand that Tony Cozier was more than just a great cricket commentator and cricket journalist. Through the simply act of plying his trade, practicing his profession, and making a living he accomplished much more than informing us of a bowler bowling, a batsman batting, a fielder taking a catch or saving a run, a wicketkeeper pulling off a stumping, or an umpire raising his finger or declining to. His was the artistry of a Renaissance creator as he wove the threads of West Indian unity, pride, hope, and accomplishment into a tapestry of Caribbean social togetherness and consciousness of our global potential not just cricket wise but socially, politically, in our self esteem and in the hope we can have for the future concerning our common product of cricket and the proper functioning of our governments and social and economic institutions in the WI. He was of more importance than just to cricket. Stanley A George III Esq. Unique Sports Agency, Bolans Antigua

  •   Venkatesh Venkatesh on May 22, 2016, 14:23 GMT

    Yes Tony Cozier was voice was voice of West Indies cricket for almost fifty years he was upright in his comments it is nothing but god's gift , so far I haven't came across any body who is having in depth knowledge of their own team like him any field . I closely followed his comments from early 1970's it was crystal clear as well there was a substance in in it , when West Indies started to decline say from early part of this century he did not took it kindly and number of occasion he raised both orally as well as writing where the advantages and limitations exists but West Indies cricket administrators were too busy fighting among themselves and brought West Indies cricket especially in Tests point of no return. Can we get another Tony Cozier is big question here

  • KRISHNA on May 22, 2016, 4:55 GMT

    Heard Tony Cozier's distinct gravelly voice for the first time when he came to India for the 74-75 series - my knowledge of cricket as a very young school kid was rudimentary and Tony fired up the sedate AIR local commentary team - he was an institution and often the last word on WI cricket and his profiles on Lawrence Rowe , Collis King et al are legendary - though he was a prolific writer - he didnt bring out many tour books having watched live more than 250 test matches - having seen the highs of the 80's/90s - he kept encouraging WI cricket in the dark days of their steep fall and am sure must have been delighted with the T20 triumphs - - ++ there was an amazing interview on cricinfo many years back - the video clip is removed but transcript remains - RIP his voice will be sorely missed

  • Wasiq on May 21, 2016, 17:43 GMT

    Mr. Cozier's passing was a shock. I believe that Michael Holding, like Richie Benaud, would come to be known as much for his commentary as his playing. He is now the voice of West Indian cricket.