Memories of an icon
I ALMOST choked the life out of Tony Cozier in March 1999 – but it wasn’t my fault.
Actually, it was Brian Lara’s fault.
The date was March 30 and people were packed into Kensington Oval tighter than sardines in a can. Tension was high; fingernails were low. The glorious ebbs and flows of cricket were in full effect as the Windies and Aussies wrestled to the death.
The Caribbean had come to a halt, with all eyes and ears focused on the “Mecca”. Almost the full slate of West Indies batsmen had come and gone as the regional team sought an unlikely 308 runs to win.
Having finished his on-air duties, Tony was back among us reporters in the press box. While I was one of the many pacing up and down, he was sitting waiting to see how the on-field drama would play out and which way his story would go. As fate would have it, I stopped my pacing right behind his chair as the last rites unfolded.
Within seconds, Lara had the final, delicious say – another cracking four towards the pavilion; 153 not out to the Trini titan and sweet, sweet victory to the Windies.
Kensington erupted in volcanic proportions and, in one swoop, I surged forward and “grabbled” Tony around his neck and began jumping about. It was a pretty wild scene inside that enclave of media people; unbridled joy – and there was Tony trying to recover from my random exuberance.
In the aftermath, and with a smile stretching from one cherry cheek to the other, I remember him declaring something like “Lara win the match and looka how you gine kill me”.
He was joking. It was all good fun and thankfully Tony was alive and well.
Now, the voice of cricket has faded into eternity – and we are left to cherish memories of an icon who taught us by excellent example; the king of his profession without ever lording it over his peers.
Having grown up with Tony Cozier in my newspaper and on my radio and television, it was a thrill to finally meet him when I entered journalism. I really admired his writing but, in getting to know him, what I came to admire more was his work ethic and how he treated people. He was a ready font of wisdom and information for those of us taking baby steps in the cricketing sphere and he was always happy and willing to share his experience – and to help if and when he could.
I have so much to thank him for: quiet words of encouragement as I ventured into sports reporting, especially cricket; his supportive advice during my tenure as the first media officer for the West Indies cricket team; and being accessible to answer my queries or requests when I worked on the two Cricket World Cups which the Caribbean staged in 2007 and 2010.
It was amazing how this revered personality, with an endless array of commitments, found time to answer questions and offer suggestions from anywhere he was travelling – Asia, England, Australia and other places. Alternatively, I would get a call from Craig responding on his father’s behalf. Tony was never too busy to “get back to you”.
To watch him during a match was a lesson in efficient time management as he moved seamlessly from penning a few paragraphs in the press box to television commentary – and radio too if he was doing that – and back. That routine would continue until close of play, with the occasional interruption for cricket banter.
All the while, he was unknowingly mentoring so many of us; showing us how to hone the right habits and skills.
As a fan of his – and eventually a fellow journalist – I read nearly everything he wrote. It was a treat to absorb Tony’s articles; particularly in the Sunday Sun where he had the luxury of more newsprint. The texture of his tone, his spell-binding turn of phrase; and manner in which he built to a crescendo and put together formidable arguments were superb – again lessons for the younger generation of journalists.
The summary effect of his carefully-woven words could do the damage of a dagger to the heart while the writing itself was like the finest champagne; something to be savoured.
The Cozier brand was journalism’s Dom Perignon.
As a writer, the ultimate compliment for me was the occasions he requested to use some of my work in his numerous publications.
Wow, I had really arrived!
He may never have known how much this meant to me but, as I progressed to tackle greater professional challenges, I have realised the significance of such milestones in my career; the confidence which the stamp of approval from a giant like Tony Cozier gave a newcomer like me. Priceless, indeed.
So while I won’t be there to pay my respects in person, I thank him for his selfless and unwitting influence.
I will remember him fondly and, of course, his unmistakable voice “coming in to bowl” from all parts of cricket’s far-flung landscape.
I will “grabble” up Tony again.
This time in my heart.
May he rest in peace.
• Gayle Alleyne is a former NATION reporter and former West Indies team media officer.