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September 9, 2013

'A commentator needs to be easy to listen to over a long period'

Interview by Subash Jayaraman

Excerpts from the show

Subash Jayaraman: You had an early start to your career in media and journalism at the age of 15 since your father was already in the business, wasn't it?

Tony Cozier: Yes. My father edited three papers in the West Indies. In fact, four of them. The Voice of St Lucia, Trinidad Guardian, Barbados Advocate and the Barbados Daily News, which he started himself in 1960. He had also covered the West Indies cricket tour to England in 1950 for West Indian newspapers. He didn't continue in cricket journalism because he became an editor, so he didn't have time for that.

SJ: You just happened to be around and wanted to give it a shot, or did he ask you to take part in it?

TC: I suppose being from Barbados and being male, everyone here at that time played cricket up to some level and was interested in cricket. In addition, my father was a devotee of the game. My present from him on my eighth birthday was a copy of Wisden. My interest was from the time I was at the Lodge School in Barbados. We had had a few students who represented West Indies in earlier times. In fact, John Goddard was West Indies' captain for 22 Tests. We listened to commentary from England. I read a lot of people, like EW Swanton, for instance, when I was at school. At that time, the three major grammar schools in Barbados played in our first- grade competition against the top clubs. I know I would have played against clubs which included Test and first-class players. In fact, the first match I played for the school at that level was against Spartan Club, which included Wes Hall and at least two or three players who had represented Barbados. Cammie Smith, who represented West Indies, was also playing in that team.

SJ: What do you consider your role and position were as a white man during the struggle for self-governance and independence for the Caribbean nations in the 1960s?

TC: Well, I never even thought of it like that. When I started in journalism it was all sport, not just cricket, although cricket was naturally the major sport. Between 1960 and 1968, when the paper was taken over by the Thomson Group, I did everything on the Barbados Daily News, as you have to on such a paper with a circulation of around 10,000 on an island with a population of 250,000 at the time. When the Daily News closed, I had to find something to do. I then became the East Caribbean correspondent for several overseas publications, and I would go around the Caribbean doing radio commentary on regional cricket while using the opportunity to interview ministers and various officials outside of cricket, or following up current affairs stories for the various overseas agencies I worked for.

As far as being a white man, my father was white and he was the editor of newspapers in three different islands. For many years, up until a few months before his death, he wrote a daily column on a wide range of topics. That he was white was something he never really thought about, and neither did I. Like he was, I was West Indian, full stop.

When I was touring in my earlier days, a lot of the players were people I had played cricket against at club level in Barbados, those who I had known for a long time, who became friends and are still personal friends. I never felt at any stage that my race made a difference. The West Indies is a very cosmopolitan part of the world and the team reflected that.

When West Indies were playing in Trinidad against New Zealand in 1971, New Zealand were bowling, so there were only four West Indians on the field. The batsmen were Roy Fredericks, a left-handed opening batsman of African descent, and Geoffrey Greenidge, a white West Indian from Barbados. The two umpires were Ralph Gosein, of Indian descent, and Douglas Sang Hue, a Jamaican-Chinese. That encapsulated how cosmopolitan West Indies were at that time. The mix on the field is now between Afro- and Indo West Indians, but all races are represented in other areas, such as administration.

SJ: But cricket was used as a vehicle for realising self-power, governance and transformation.

TC: Britain was the colonial power and held the political and financial control. It meant a hell of a lot for the confidence of the West Indies people that cricket was the one endeavour in which they could prove themselves the equal of the British, who, after all, invented the game. We took a long time before we won a match in England but the team kept improving with experience. We got Test status in 1928 and 1930 was when West Indies first won a Test match over England. The real watershed came in 1950, when West Indies went to England and won the series there 3-1.

It was a time when the West Indian immigration to England had started to peak. Thousands of West Indians went to Britain at that time and settled there. They were discriminated against. When the West Indies team, their team, came to England and beat England, it gave them a tremendous lift, it meant a lot to their self-esteem. Also, it inspired a lot of their politicians who had already been pushing on to full independence from Britain.

SJ: Listener Sriram asks: What did you think - at the time - of West Indies' 1976 tour of England and Tony Greig's "grovelling" remark? And what is your take on it now, almost 40 years since, about the allegations of "sinister" bowling by some English journalists?

TC: It was, of course, a silly thing for Tony Greig, a white South African, even if playing for England, to have said, in relation to a virtually all-black West Indies team, especially at a time when global opposition to apartheid in South Africa was at its height. That certainly fired them up. It was a fast bowling attack. You had Roberts, you had Holding, you had Wayne Daniel. But as far as so-called sinister bowling was concerned, that wasn't confined to England alone. It wasn't that West Indies were specifically taking their own back on the old colonial power. West Indies were the best and were just out there to win and maintain their standards.

SJ: These days, except for you, Fazeer Mohammed, Harsha Bhogle and Chishti Mujahid from Pakistan, there are very few commentators who don't come from an international cricket background. Is that a good thing - where you don't have a play-by-play commentator coming from a trained journalism background and a colour guy from a cricket background?

TC: I really couldn't comment on that, except to say that you are referring solely to television commentary. The late Brian Johnston and John Arlott are two of the finest examples of those who didn't play cricket at any standard but were outstanding commentators. I don't think you have to have been an international player to understand the game.

Other things are required as far as commentary is concerned, both radio and TV. I've just reread something Christopher Martin-Jenkins wrote under the heading, "Do you want to be a commentator?" One of them, which a lot of people need, he says, and is easily overlooked, is the most important of all necessities for cricket commentators: to have a voice that is pleasing to listen to.

A commentary stint is about 20 minutes duration. The voice needs to command and hold the listener's attention, which doesn't necessarily mean [having to turn] the volume down. Commentators need to be easy to listen to over a long period. That is not always the case as far as some of the ex-players who have come in. The ex-players can certainly speak knowledgeably from personal experience, but I don't think most know as much of cricket history and detail as those who are involved in it on a day-to-day basis. That is my job.

SJ: I want to bring out an example of the bottle-throwing incident in Barbados in 1999, when Australia were touring. It was you on the air explaining the situation, and I quote from the Daily Mail - you managed to be "condemnatory without being portentous".

We see David Gower hosting everything, or a Sanjay Manjrekar or Ian Bishop doing it all, but you need to have play-by-play plus a colour commentator who is an ex-cricketer.

TC: Possibly, yes. But I cite the case of Richie Benaud, who is probably the game's most universally respected TV commentator. He was captain of Australia in the 1960s, a top Test player. Yet the last generation of viewers have come up knowing Richie Benaud only as a great cricket commentator. He has made a reputation as a commentator because he was good at it and the public likes his work. If there are more like that, that's great.

SJ: There are a couple of listeners - Bharathram and Rizwan Patel - who ask: Can an average man/woman aspire to be a cricket commentator in this modern era? If you haven't been already established, is there a window for them to come into the game?

TC: No, there isn't. Unless they are in newspaper work and their work is seen and they then graduate to radio. Fazeer Mohammed, myself, Harsha have all done that. You need to be in the game and be known to be in the game by those who select. Sadly radio now seems to be more and more completely overtaken by television.

SJ: How do you think the art of cricket commentary has evolved during your tenure as TV commentator?

TC: I did television long after I was on radio. Brian Johnston, with whom I did Test Match Special in England, was very influential. The first thing he said was that you've got to have fun. You are on the air, you have to enjoy it. If you are not enjoying it, then the listener won't enjoy it.

Then I came into television commentary at the start of Kerry Packer's World Series Cricket on Channel Nine in Australia. David Hill was the producer then. He also emphasised what Johnston said - enjoy yourself, have fun, you are free to do what you want to do, make your jokes, you can do nonsense once you keep on the cricket. The television once went to the full moon in Sydney. Because I had the backing of David Hill, I just sang "Blue Moon" on TV. You know people are going to be entertained once you accept that the cricket is first and foremost.

Now, with T20 cricket, we hear Danny Morrison. He is completely off his rocker, but that's a really good way of saying it. He is not perhaps ideal for Test cricket but he is ideally suited to T20 cricket because of his style.

SJ: T20 leagues have made cricket into a product. You said you weren't comfortable with some of the things that you were asked to say as a commentator.

TC: When I went to the IPL, I just didn't know what it was all about. We got there and there were all these product placements that you had to do. I wasn't comfortable with that. I didn't understand at that time but now I understand it. It is a new form of the game that you have to adapt to. You had to adapt to 50-overs cricket from Test cricket. When you do T20, you are not doing Tests.

SJ: Shoaib and Mohit ask: What is it that you had to do different in adapting to, perhaps, commentating during the CPL recently?

TC: Of course, T20 is a lot faster than Tests, even 50 overs. There are a lot more sixes, a lot more fours, than you would get in Tests. A six is big excitement. You get a big crowd. Fireworks, dancing, cheerleaders. The lot. The commentary should reflect that.

As far as the radio was concerned, the top Australian commentator Alan McGilvray, said to me from the time I did my first Test match commentary with him in the series against Australia in the West Indies in 1965: "Always beat the crowd. Don't let a wicket fall and [be in a situation where] people are reacting with the usual noise and the listener at home is saying, 'What? What is going on?' You have to beat the crowd."

His technique as a radio commentator was that when the bowler ran in, he would turn his attention from the bowler, two paces before he was about to deliver, and shift to the batsman. For instance, "In comes Dennis Lillee to bowl and (two paces from his delivery, you go to the batsman), Viv Richards is… forward, drives, cuts, hooks, pulls, is bowled, or whatever." He was there, with the batsman, ready to describe what he does with the ball when it reaches him. The English commentators' technique is to wait on the bowler to deliver and then say, "He bowls." It means they lose a split second by the time the ball gets to the batsman. They tend to be just that little bit late on a dismissal or a four or a six and the listener at home is wondering, "What is going on?"

SJ: Dilip asks: Do you remember any particular commentary stint due to a particular knock or bowling spell?

TC: It was just one over but certainly: there was Devon Malcolm to Vivian Richards in Barbados in the Test in 1990 when Malcolm was, as he could do, bowling very fast and Richards typically took him on. In that particular over, Richards top-edged over the keeper's head, hooked him for six, cut him for four and then one flew past his nose. The over cost 18 but the crowd at Kensington Oval absolutely loved it. They were in a frenzy and I was caught up with it.

As a commentator, these are the moments you live for: a one-on-one confrontation, with the tension very high, between a very fast bowler and a great, aggressive batsman who was always going to take him on.

The next over, the captain at the time, Allan Lamb, took Malcolm off. That just punctured the balloon just when everyone was waiting for more. A friend of mine keeps a lot of old videos, and when I went to meet him in London when we were there for the Champions Trophy, he put this on said, "Do you remember this?"

There were so many more. Jeff Thomson bowling in Barbados, again to Richards, and to Greenidge and Kallicharran - an hour and a half of sheer magic. It was lightning-fast hostility, Richards taking him on, and eventually Thomson getting him. That was the kind of thing that really lifts your commentary, gives you a thrill, an adrenaline rush.

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Keywords: Broadcasting, Commentary

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Posted by Mittaraghava on (September 10, 2013, 17:47 GMT)

Tony Coziar is one of the most popular commentrators.He has given an insight into ,what hard work it needs to become a popular commentrator and the fact that one need not be a ex-international cricketer .I agree with him that a commentrator has to beat the crowd and how vivdly he desribes the attention he had to pay to the bowler and batsman in radio commentry.Many times i have the experience of listening to the roar from the crowd and my ears glued to the radio wanting to know "what happened".In the same situation a commentrator like T.Cozier beats the crowd and Says "He is out" and goes into a silencee till the crowd roar is over to explain in detail what had happened. The radio commentry was so perfect those days that years later when i watched the same match on TV, there was nothing new.eg.Sandip patil hitting 6 boundries of B.Willis in an over, in a test match was so perfectly described that there was nothing new in the visual.

Posted by   on (September 10, 2013, 17:38 GMT)

I have often said that Tony Cozier is as good at his Job as any of the best professionals are at theirs. His language, his humour,his knowledge of the game, his sublime descriptive ability,all wrapped in an unquenchable passion for our great sport. I too have enjoyed his commentary over the years and I am proud that we share the same place of birth.Stay well Mr Cozier

Posted by aroundthewicket on (September 10, 2013, 16:23 GMT)

"Walker now on his way to bowl to him... big left handed West Indian Captain who waits tapping away at the crease... Walker bowls and... Lloyd... off the back foot crashes it through the covers [crowd starts to cheer]... that's four more runs... good looking shot there by Lloyd..."

"Roberts bowls... Chappell goes back and his off-stump goes flying out of the ground, [crowd starts to cheer in background]... beaten completely there for pace... Roberts really put everything into that delivery"

With that commentary, over 35 years ago and you could still picture the moment as well as any youtube clip.

Imagine Danny Morrison: "Walker bowls to the otha big fella... and whadda ya know [crowd cheers] what does big CL do? the super cat... he swings that big bat of his and gets anotha four.... boom! Whadda ya think Bish?" "Boom!"

Thanks for your service Mr. Cozier, I grew up listening to you!

Posted by Er-.S.R.shankar on (September 10, 2013, 12:04 GMT)

Chrismartin jenkins, Brian Johnstan, Richie Benaud & Tony Cozier were top class commentators. I still recall the aural pleasure they generated during the Tests in England during seventies when BBC radio was the only media available Even thousand TV coverages could not substitute for the enjoyment Cozier added lustre to WI brand Cozier's voice is still vibrant - more importantly though an ardent fan of West Indian cricket he was never biased. He used to lavish praise on Gavaskar and Vishwanath when they handled the pace battery of WI valiantly

To me Ian Bishop is in the same mould as Cozier and he is the best in business He is exception to the rule that best cricketers do not make best commentators I wonder How Harsha Bhogle is admired--He is commentator who comments non-stop [mostly of issues off the field] without understanding that partly it has to be left to the visuals in Tv commentary

I would admire Cozier as long as I cherish Cricket--Wish him long long healthy lif

Posted by asheesha68 on (September 10, 2013, 11:38 GMT)

I have the following piece from TC etched in memory for ever: Lords 1980 "Don't throw it.. keep it no...Oh the tension out there is something tremendous.. Botham in now to Roberts.. on the way..HE SWINGS THAT.. THATS THE WINNING RUNS.. FIRTS (sic) BOUNCE TO THE BOUNDARY.. ROBERTS HAS WON THE MATCH WITH A FOUR...The players running off the ground...."

Posted by DaisonGarvasis on (September 10, 2013, 7:33 GMT)

There are really good ones like Tony, Harsha, etc. I really have to say the most "useless" commentator is Arun Lal. Brings no value whatsoever with his commentary. Somehow he managed to get in to the profession and clings on with it. He makes a living out of "stating the obvious". Sometimes one has to turn off the TV because he is on commentary.

Posted by   on (September 10, 2013, 5:15 GMT)

For the past almost 20 years he has been a shadow of his former self.

Posted by   on (September 9, 2013, 17:00 GMT)

I really turns me off when the commentator simply repeats the ball by ball commentary as if we,the listening public, did not hear it the first time. Wish we had tapes of people like Trevor Bailey so that they can learn what colour comments are. It should add something to the ball by ball , not simply repeat it.

Posted by CricketChat on (September 9, 2013, 13:50 GMT)

Tony Cozier is one of the very best commentators of all time. Smooth and easy to follow. He is impartial and always praised good performances irrespective of nationality/team. Seeing and listening to him in CPL recently, I feel age finally caught up with him. Still, he is one of the few commentators I like to listen to.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Subash Jayaraman
Subash's introduction to cricket began with enduring sledging from his brothers during their many backyard cricket sessions. His fascination with the game took hold in 1983, but mostly it was the cricket commentary over All India Radio, about the water-tight front-foot defence of Gavaskar that did it. @thecricketcouch

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