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Learning at the feet of a giant

HAYDN GILL, [email protected]

Learning at the feet of a giant

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WHEN I WAS ten years old, I wanted to be the next Tony Cozier.

By the time I turned 20 and with the benefit of a little intellectual development, it was obvious that it was a foolhardy goal.

No one could be the next Tony Cozier. He was incomparable, an extraordinary talent, a master of his craft, a consummate professional.

In the world of cricket journalism, most of us are writers, radio commentators or television broadcasters. Some combine two areas – writing and radio or writing and television or television and radio – but very few attempt to do all three. It is simply too much to handle physically and mentally or we don’t have the requisite skills.

Tony Cozier not only took on the triumvirate but did so with a level of quality that is immeasurable. No one else in our field has produced so much over such a long period at such impeccable standards and there should be no argument that he has been the world’s most outstanding cricket writer/commentator/broadcaster/editor/historian of our lifetime.

In his prime during the 1990s, I admired how he worked around the clock. He would lead off Voice Of Barbados’ (VOB) radio broadcast of a Test match with a 20-minute stint from 10 a.m., and move to a half-hour television slot at 10:30 a.m. After that, in the middle of the refreshment break after the first hour’s play, he would return to the VOB box for another 20-minute spell. The pattern continued, meaning that he would have spent more than three-quarters of a day on air, either on television or radio. When his electronic colleagues signed off after play, Tony didn’t have such a luxury and would now have to sign on to pen his reports for a handful of newspapers.

Having recognised that I could not be the next Tony Cozier, I altered my long-term goals – the revised aim was to try to do some of the things that he did. More than 20 years later, I’ve achieved some of those objectives – writing for this newspaper and doing radio broadcasts for our sister company – due in large part to the man I considered to be my mentor.

Even before I joined the staff at the NATION, Tony invited me to contribute to his Caribbean Quarterly magazine when I was still a teenager at a time when he would only have had the benefit of observing my work as a freelancer for about a year.

In the years that followed, not only was I a regular contributor to that magazine, but Tony would often ask me to write for the annual international home series official tour guide of which he was editor.

As a journalist, I’ve developed my own style over the years but Tony Cozier was the template that I started with.

As a boy in secondary school, I often used to tape Tony when he was on radio, constantly listen back to those recordings and try to practise whenever I went to watch a cricket match. When I first dabbled in the field of print journalism, I photocopied many of his stories, placed them in a file and often referred to them to help me hone my craft. My study at home still contains a collection of his West Indies Cricket Annuals and Caribbean Cricket Quarterlies which I will treasure for the rest of my life.

I cannot find appropriate words to describe the significant influence Tony Cozier has had on my development as a journalist but I will forever cherish his wise tutelage, his guiding hand, the many moments we spent in Press boxes across the Caribbean and the few by-lines we shared on these pages. Moreover, I will be eternally grateful for the huge confidence he placed in me and several recommendations he made that ultimately afforded me opportunities which I could only have dreamt of.

I vividly remember when in 1998, our then Editor-in-Chief Harold Hoyte walked out of his office to tell me that Tony had told him that the rigours of covering international cricket for print and electronic media were beginning to take their toll and Tony recommended  that I be given the opportunity to cover One-Day Internationals in the Caribbean. I was only 24 years old at the time, had been on a staff at the NATION for just a little over three years and could hardly believe what was happening.

In 2004, Harold came out of his office with a similar story, this time Tony recommending that I should also cover Test matches throughout the region. Later that same year, after West Indies qualified for the final of the ICC Champions Trophy, Harold emerged from his office to inform me that Tony recommended that I go off to London to cover the match.

The endorsements from Tony did not end there. Throughout the years, I’ve had the opportunity to contribute to a few international outlets, including the Wisden Alamanack, one of cricket’s most respected publications, solely because of his recommendations.

Having admired Tony Cozier since I was a boy, having had a chance to learn from him and having had the opportunity to work with him up until the week before his passing, I am in no doubt that the proudest moment of my career was in 2004 when I was chosen as the winner of the Barbados Cricket Association’s inaugural Tony Cozier Award For Excellence In Cricket Journalism.

Tony Cozier has played a magnificent innings with strokes all around the wicket. His final score was 75 but in my eyes, his contribution will be viewed as a world record that no one else can break. Rest well, Tony, rest well.

Haydn Gill is the NATION’S Associate Editor (Sports).